Head for the hills! (An emergency prep plan?)

For many, the call of the wild is a very real thing. Living off the land, hunting and gathering is in their blood. They have training, they have help, and they have the right mindset. Most of them live the lifestyle now, there is no concept of another way of life. They know the difficulties and challenges, but they are experts. 

But for many people, there is no true concept of surviving the lifestyle of “living off the land”. Maybe they have done some car camping, or even a bit of hiking, but to spend a night living with what they carry on their backs, not having a publicly maintained bathroom facility is beyond their experience.

In my involvement with emergency preparedness, self sufficiency and homesteading, I have come across many different types of folks. From a devastating emergency standpoint, or what some might call a SHTF (S#!+ Hit the Fan) situation where you will be on your own for an extended period of time, you have people from all walks of life who intend to “head for the hills” and live off the land until things calm down.

Why you might decide that bugging out to the woods is right for you…

Many people romanticize about our pioneers, or Native American’s living nomadic lifestyles. Or they have watch folks like Bear Grylls, using tried and true survival techniques and assume that with the right tools, they too could live off the land and survive.

Statistically it takes about 3 days for people to turn animalistic. Three days going without public assistance, for those who are expecting either rescue, or handouts, or expecting things to return to normal and don’t, for those same friends and neighbors to turn on each other and steal or otherwise do harm to each other in order to survive.

Bugging out to the hills, or just to the wilds of any kind offers a hope of seclusion from the people who are likely going a bit crazy in the populated areas.

Perhaps you have even done a bit of camping or backpacking, or maybe you purchased some of the best equipment Bear Grylls brand has to offer.

Why bugging out might not be a good idea.


Living off the land is tough enough when you have a large group of nomadic people helping you to survive. Finding enough food to forage without completely depleting an area of resources requires that you are continually on the move. This is exhausting and stressful to the best of survivalists. Even avid backpackers rely on packaged foods to sustain the caloric need of nomadic existence.

Caloric needs must be taken into consideration if this is your chosen evacuation or emergency plan. Most of us lead a sedentary lifestyle. We work in offices, drive cars, and sit on couches. Unless you regularly run marathons or are physically active for 8 hours per day, you are going to need significantly more calories living off the land, than you do now. It is so easy, in our current society, to achieve a 3000+ Calorie per day lifestyle, that some might wonder what I’m talking about. I could definitely afford to live off my own bodies fuel storage for a few weeks, but once that’s gone and I can no longer get to the store for more ice cream, then what?

Through hikers estimate that a person needs approximately 3,000 calories per day to maintain body weight based on their daily activity. This does not include calories burned doing things other than hiking such as bending and digging to gather food, or stalking and hunting game animals. This is physically exhausting activity. By the end of a long thru-hike many hikers, even with strategic resupply areas, end up emaciated by the end of their journey.

Check out Wood Trekker’s blog regarding living off the land. It is very thorough, and easy to understand. His chart is based on a 3,300 calorie diet and what you would need to hunt and consume to stay alive. Not many people are up to the challenge mentally, let alone physically.


Type of Animal oz of Meat/Animal cal/oz of Meat Total cal/Animal Animals/Day (Animals+organ meat/Day)
Squirrel 2.8 47 132 25 (16)
Rabbit 16.8 47 790 4 (3)
Salmon 96 60 5,760 0.57
Clams 0.25 40 10 320
Raccoon 160 72 11,520 0.29
Turkey 160 45 7,200 0.46
Deer 1,120 53 59,360 0.056 (0.05)
Black Bear 1,600 43 68,800 0.047

Remember also, that meat is one of the densest sources of vital nutrients for a nomadic lifestyle. Protein and fat. Vegetables are typically not calorie dense foods (hence the mass consumption of salads and other veggies by folks trying to LOSE weight).

Here are his examples of some plant calories. This is not a complete or even extensive list. Just examples.


Type of Plant cal/oz of Plant Material Pounds Per Day Needed
Cattail Root (Unprocessed) 8 26.5
Parsnips 23 9
Blueberries 16 13
Lingonberries 5 41
Acorns (processed) 110 2
Burdock Root 20 10*

So keep in mind that while you are gathering plants, your are not hunting and vice versa. Also, when hunting or fishing you are never guaranteed a meal after your efforts. Everything is a trade off in caloric expenditure vs successful acquisition of food.

You may be thinking, “sure, but we have a TON of blackberry bushes near my house, or where I am going.”

You need to consider several factors for plant gathering.

  • Are the plants in season
  • What other animals might get to my plant source before I do?
    • Deer
    • Birds
    • Bears?
  • How can I keep my plant foods so they last when the season is over?


Now that you may or may not have your calories met, you still need to consider the availability of water. Water sources are truly few and far between when thinking of survival. Plus, everything needs water including predators and other people who are also trying to live off the land. If those people decide that the water source belongs to them and they have enough people or weapons to hold that position, you will need to look elsewhere.

You will need to be able to filter or boil your water, and you will need to be able to carry several days worth of water for drinking and cleaning during each leg of your journey.


Since we have already established that a nomadic lifestyle is necessary to have ANY CHANCE of gathering or hunting enough food to survive, what can you plan for your shelter? You could carry a tent if you plan ahead, and have gear similar to a backpackers. But…What happens in winter? Do you have adequate shelter? Have you been able to put up enough food to survive months in the mountains with no vegetation and animals scarce?

Physical fitness and gear

It surprises me (but maybe it shouldn’t) how unprepared a person is when they come to me asking about surviving the woods. Typically, they are overweight and they have these huge packs full of unopened gear. I ask them if they do any backpacking or camping. “Well, no….” If heading for the hills is their emergency plan,these folks are completely unprepared for what’s in store for them.

Living off the land, or bugging out into the woods requires a great deal of physical fitness, skill, practice and the appropriate gear. Unless you have studied bushcrafting and are an avid thru-hiker or extreme wilderness survival expert, I can not, in good conscience, recommend a “bug out to the woods” scenario.

How can you increase your chances of success and survival?

Have a place to go!

This part is the easiest part, at least in theory.

If your plan is to bug out to the hills, have a place in the hills you make or have already made your own. Stocks it with supplies. Fortify it against weather and intruders. Camouflage it. Whatever it takes to keep it safe from both 4 legged and 2 legged scavengers.

Have a well laid out plan to get to your oasis. Keep maps with marked water sources with your bug out supplies. If possible, practice your route to get there.

Be prepared for the long term by stocking your space with seeds to grow your own food when weather allows. Learn more about how to be a good farmer, and less about what plants are edible in the wild.

Get fit. Practice hiking with your full gear, or work your way up. Practice hiking the required distance to your bug out location. Head to the gym or workout at home.

Have a tribe. Find a group of likeminded people to develop a mutually beneficial support group. The nomads didn’t do it alone, at least not long term. Exile typically meant a death sentence.

Please let me know your thoughts and ideas on this subject. I know many folks may disagree with me, and that’s ok. I am open to constructive thoughts and ideas.


2 thoughts on “Head for the hills! (An emergency prep plan?)

  1. This was very interesting. I appreciated that you placed those tables with amounts needed. It puts “living off the land,” in perspective. Are those amounts per day, based off if you only had to eat that one animal? I mean you did not subsidize with anything else?


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