What to Look for in a Survival Retreat Property

prepper retreat locations

by Biff Brannon

There is some good literature out there regarding setting up a survival retreat location.  In fact, if you were not aware, MD Creekmore, the owner of this blog site has a book out called “Dirt-cheap Survival Retreat: One Man’s Solution” (click here to find out more about this awesome guide) that goes into some detail regarding setting up a survival retreat location for very little cost.

I do go into some of that in this particular blog post as well, but mostly this article is about the importance of having a retreat location to fall back to.  Especially for those who live near cities.

We should consider ourselves lucky that large scale disaster events are few and far between.  Most survival situations run for a short duration with many lasting less than ten days and are what I refer to as ‘green’ events (a disaster lasting 1-10 days). Most green events can be handled by hunkering down at home with an ample supply of survival food and water and some alternative cooking means such as a camp stove or even your back yard gas grill.

Throw in some other basic survival gear (here is a link to MD Creekmore’s favorite gear) that can be easily found at any outdoor camping store, some common sense thinking regarding prepping, and you will be set to face a green event.  However, larger disaster threats are out there, and such events that fall into the ‘yellow’ and ‘red’ event category (yellow event 10-90 days, red event 90+ days into years) typically spell bad news for entire regions and sometimes entire countries.

You can pretty much count on a yellow or red event having a complete breakdown of society at some point.  Water service might not be operating, electrical power may not be available, stores will not be getting resupplied from distribution centers, people will start to starve and panic, looting, and rioting will take place, people will die, people will get sick from poor hygiene, some will contract otherwise controlled diseases, the government will not be able to keep control…  it will be basically everybody fending for themselves.  And the worse place you will want to be is anywhere near a city or large town.

Hunkering down at your apartment or home is not always going to be a good idea in the case of yellow or red events, as bands of looters will eventually end up going from house to house or apartment to apartment.  This is where the survival retreat location comes into play for people who are serious about being preppers.

Some of us are lucky enough to already live far away from cities, however, most of us are not.  Those of us who are not that lucky will need and want to have a retreat location.

When it comes to survival retreat locations, like any other piece of real estate, the mantra is location, location, location.  A thirty-minute drive from the outskirts of a city to a friend’s farm is not going to be a good retreat location, but nor is it necessary to buy a place in rural Idaho where the population is as low as two people per square mile.

The Golden Horde Theory

When looking to set up a retreat site you want to try and be at least one full tank of gas plus a minimum of another fifty miles away from any major city/suburb center.

That comes out to about 300-350 or more miles.  And you certainly want to also be at least fifty miles away from any major highway or interstate.  The reason for this is because when things really start to go bad in the cities people are going to start to leave them in a massive exodus.

Once people notice other people loading up their cars to leave town there is going to be a domino effect.  When exactly that will happen is hard to say.  Some people will have enough smarts to see where things are headed and get out ahead of everybody else.

That is the kind of person you need to be.  Others will keep on thinking things will get better and try and ride it out, only deciding it may be better to leave the city once they are down to having hardly any food or water and no way to get more.  By then it may be too late to safely leave.

Those roads and various other travel routes such as railways and river-ways are called ‘channelized areas’.  You can expect these channelized areas to be jam-packed with people fleeing the cities.  The highway, in particular, will be a very bad situation as people stop to try and get supplies along their route.

Eventually, gas stations, other retail centers, and even small communities along the major roadways will run dry of gas and supplies.   Cars will run out of gas or just breakdown along these channelized areas.

This will clog the highways and bring travel to a stop.  People who fled the cities will get out of their cars at that point and load up as much of their belongings as they can carry and start walking on foot.

At that point, they may stop following the highway and just spread out from their location in all directions.  People are either going to have what they need to survive for a few days or they are not.  The people who don’t have what they need and do not have skills to find food and water in rural zones are going to prey on those that do have food and water.  It will be a very dangerous situation.

People leaving in the mass exodus will probably think to go as far away as possible hoping that things will be better in another part of their state or region in the country.  However, in a red level event that affects the entire country or the world, things are going to be bad everywhere, and probably for some time.

Some will try to head to a relative’s home far away.  Others may think they should head towards where there is lots of water.  Some will want to head to farm country.  Other may decide they will head to the wooded and forest regions to try to lay low by camping.

It is safe to assume that people spreading out from the cities will not get very far without food, water and survival gear, and skills.  That is the reason why you want your retreat location to be as far away from cities and their channelized areas as possible because the refugee situation will be devastating.

Anything within sight of a group of desperate refugees, be it a house, store, landmark, barn…anything, will be traveled to and searched for supplies.

The more desperate the refugees, the more dangerous they will become.  Starvation and thirst will make people do things they would not normally do, not only for themselves but especially for a loved one.  So you need to be far away from such threats as possible.

The further away you are from channelized locations the less interaction you will have with desperate people.  But still, count on having such interactions, and be prepared for when they do occur.

So when looking for a retreat location what kind of place do you want to search for?  Some people will look for real estate such as a cabin on a lake or a secluded hunting cabin in the woods, others will look to purchase property in farm country and perhaps buy a small hobby farm, others may think to load up their camping gear and head into the backwoods where they have gone camping before.

And there are others that will look for an in-town retreat, meaning a small community of less than a few thousand people. All are viable options, and some may be better suited for certain regions of the country.  Of course, it also depends on what you can afford.

Of the few options, I mentioned above let’s take a look at the two defining differences: Secluded survival retreats and in-town survival retreats. Both have their own pros and khans.

Survival Retreat – In TownPros

  1. You will be part of a community, hopefully where people help people.
  2. You will benefit from having lots of community people you can barter with.
  3. You may benefit from the security precautions the community takes, especially if law enforcement remains intact.
  4. You may benefit from any local hospitals or clinics.
  5. You will benefit from a greater skill pool off all the people in the community

Cons

  1. Greater risk of being burglarized.
  2. Increased risk of communicable diseases.
  3. Greater risk of your prepping lifestyle being noticed and your supplies confiscated for the “good of the community”.
  4. Limited privacy.

Survival Retreat – Isolated:  Pros

  1. You will have better privacy.
  2. Easier to hunt from right outside your door.
  3. More room for gardening.
  4. More control over your own supplies.
  5. Better control of overall sanitation.
  6. Batter able to keep livestock close and easier to feed.
  7. Much lower risk of communicable disease.
  8. Lower land and house prices.

Cons

  1. The more isolated you are the fewer opportunities you will have to barter for needed items.
  2. Probably will require more than one family unit to provide adequate security.
  3. You should not depend on much help from neighbors or whatever law enforcement may be left if attached by looters.

Personally, for my own retreat planning I have two locations; a primary location and a secondary location that is about a 2-day walk from the first.  Both I would classify as isolated, though they are located less than a day’s walk from small communities of 400 or fewer people where I and my family are well known.

A few other things to think about when choosing a retreat location:

  1. It should be 350+ miles from major cities.
  2. It should be located 50+ miles from major interstate freeways and other channelized areas.
  3. Good local resources for wood, wild game, crop growing, and of course water.
  4. Good source of surface water (saying this again a different way because water is important) and year-round precipitation.
  5. No risk of flooding, major earthquakes, hurricanes, forest fires that would burn your retreat home, etc…
  6. Some natural defenses like hills or berms that make prepping for defenses would be preferable.
  7. Low population, as fewer people around will mean fewer problems.

Now that we have broken down the isolated retreat against the in-town retreat, lets take a look at the preppers who want to head off into the wilds all alone and survive on bugs, chipmunks, deer, and living in man-made stick shelters under a blown down tree versus a prepper who plans to hold up with family or friends.

As for the lone prepper, personally, I do not think that is a very good idea.  I have the utmost respect for people like Les Stroud (read this article written by Les Stroud for M.D. Creekmore.com).  The skills of the man are amazing, and while such skills will keep you alive for a few weeks and possibly a month, surviving in the wilds like that long term can have devastating effects on a person.

Trying to survive on such skills as demonstrated by the TV show survivalists for many months to a year or more is going to be very difficult.  Even if you know how to build a log cabin and sustain yourself with food and water and scrounging wild roots and veggies, you are taking a big risk just by being alone if you get hurt.

If you get hurt or even sick bad enough to keep you from maintaining your food and water stores you are going to die.  If you break your tools that you brought with you and have no way of fixing them or bartering for new tools you are going to die.

If your hunting rifle breaks or you run out of wire or thread suitable for snaring or hunting game, you are going to get very hungry and could die.  For me, going out alone into a survival situation for extended periods like a yellow or red event is just asking for trouble.

You need to know how to do everything for yourself, you need to know how to do it well, and you need to make sure you are always healthy enough to maintain camp and supplies to be able to keep alive.

Being part of a family unit or a group of like-minded friends, or a combination of the both is a safer way to prepare when planning a survival retreat location.  For example, I am part of a small group of like-minded family and friends.

Some of us have paramedic and nursing work experience, some of us are former military including military police, combat medic, and a force recon marine.  Some are avid outdoors-men who can hunt and are familiar with woodland survival techniques, others know how to plant and grow food and how to preserve food for storage…  the knowledge and skills spread out over ten different people are not only diverse but amazing.

Also, think about all the knowledge that can be cross-trained from members of your survival retreat group.  If somebody takes a class on soap making or maybe animal trapping and all you need to do is hold a class for the group and cross-train that new knowledge.

Another good thing about being part of a group of preppers is that it can really help bring costs down.  Think of a retreat location more like a vacation spot out of the hustle and bustle of city life, and maybe go a step further and look at the retreat as a timeshare property or a membership managed LLC that owns a lodge open to use by members only.

Of course, it may be easier if just one person owns the property and is open to work and tools contributions from the group.  Either way, if you set up a prepper group you need to know you can absolutely trust the people you are forming up with.  This may be less important when dealing with just family members.  Either way, there will be arguments over things.  Be prepared for that as well.  But remember the ultimate end goal you are trying to achieve.

The fact is that if you are facing a yellow or red event than you can almost certainly expect the power grids to be down and then eventually everything else that society provides is going to fail as well.  You retreat will need to be ready for the kind of living our forefathers experienced before electricity and motorized equipment.

You need to be ready to get back to the basics such as growing your food in a garden, using an outhouse, digging a well, patching threadbare clothing, making your own soap, tending to livestock, sharpening axes and saw blades, canning preserves, making candles, smoking and salting meat for storage, etc…

Not only does a retreat location require money for equipment and tools you may need, but it will also require to you to be prepared with a whole new set of skills to be able to live comfortably, or at least as comfortably as you can.  Depending on the climate your retreat is located in will largely depends on some of the tools and skills you will need to have, but mostly I think you will find that most skills and tools will apply in most regions.

Of course your retreat is going to need to be stocked with the usual items such as eating utensils, plates, glasses, furniture – it is a second home, after all, assuming you are not able to relocate and live at your retreat location year round, so you will want to make things as comfortable as possible and get enjoyment out of it even if it never needs to serve its purpose as a survival retreat.

But let’s take a look at some suggested things in the list below that you may want to consider having or planning for.

Survival Retreat Prepper List:  Above and Beyond the Usual

Water:  You will need to know how you will be able to get water for survival at your retreat.   There are many different ways to secure water.  Once you have it, you will need to be able to store it safely for short periods of time until consumed. (click here to read MD Creekmore’s detailed article on water).

Food:  Store more canned foods, MREs, bulk rice, bulk wheat, bulk beans, bulk salt.  Learn to can and preserve your own foods that you grow or harvest from wild plants.  Your canned and stored foods may not last as long as the disaster event does, so be prepared to learn some skills such as farming, hunting, fishing, and foraging for wild foods. (click here to read MD Creekmore’s detailed article on prepper food storage).

Fitness/health:  Before a major survival event strikes you should seriously think about getting done any elective surgery procedures you have been putting off.  Take care of any dentistry work.  Stay in shape.  If you are not in shape, get in shape or at least better shape. (click here to read MD Creekmore detailed article on medical preparedness for preppers).

Personal Items:  You should make a separate list for each member of your family or person who is expected to stay at your retreat during survival event.  Things to think about; spare glasses, prescription medications, birth control, and feminine products all come to mind right away.

Chemical and Nuke Defense:  Geiger counter, HEPA filters, potassium iodate, means to shower outside your retreat.

Pandemic Defense:  Hand sanitizer, disinfectants, antibiotics, and antiviral medications, N95 masks, expectorant.

First Aid:  It would be a good idea to get advanced first aid training, possibly EMT or Paramedic level if possible.  Have a first aid kit on hand equal to or greater than your level of medical aid ability, and have extra supplies of everything.

Hygiene: Soap – lots of it.  It would be a good idea to learn how to make it.  Suggest that you have bottles lye on hand to help you make soap.  Toothpaste or powder, floss, toilet paper, sunscreen, alternate toilet paper for when the good stuff runs out.

Gardening:  Learn to garden and look into buying and storing non-hybrid seeds.  There are so many numerous gardening tools out on the market that to list them all here would take up too much space.

Start out by keeping it simple and buy the basic rakes, hoes, shovels, tillers and hand garden tools.  If you don’t know a thing about gardening you better find out right away and start learning.

Being able to plant your own garden and raise your own crops could mean the difference between starvation and living.  Aside from learning how to grow food to eat, you should also look into growing your own medicinal herbs.

Livestock:  It wouldn’t hurt to have a dozen chickens, a couple of cows, and some goats.  Being able to have some fresh eggs, milk, and make your own butter would be a great benefit to any survival retreat.  Of course, having such animals will take some work and possible new skills.  How far you want to go with keeping livestock is up to you.

Hunting and Fishing:  Being able to hunt and fish could help greatly towards keeping you well fed.  Look into what wild game is located in your region and learn how to hunt and trap it.  Learning to smoke meat can help in long preservation in any large game animals you harvest.

Fuel:  Buy plenty of extra fuel.  Gasoline, kerosene, propane, diesel…whatever.  If you have something that runs on fuel, make sure you have extra of it and don’t let your primary tank fall below half full.

Gasoline does not keep for a long time, but diesel stores better than gasoline – either way, keep some additives such as STABIL that will help extend the life of gasoline and diesel fuels.  Rotate out any old fuel you have stored when you buy new fuel.

Security:  Fences, locking gates, locking road cables, reinforced doors, night vision gear, guns and ammunition, razor wire, black plastic to cover windows (keeps light from inside being seen outside at night), security patrols. (click here to read MD Creekmore’s detailed article on retreat security)

Firefighting:  In a green, yellow or red event the fire department may not be able to respond.  So be ready to fight your own fires as best as you can.  Keep fire extinguishers inside your retreat, replace your roof with a fireproof metal roof, keep trees, hedges and brush at least fifty yards away from your retreat house.

Maintain smoke and carbon monoxide detectors inside, and have fresh batteries on hand to make sure they are always working.

General Tools:  For gardening, gun-smithing, auto-mechanical, woodworking.

Communication:  Having a handful of two-way radios is a great way to stay in contact with people who are out working in the yard or field with those that stay behind at the retreat house.  Communication is actually a part of your security list as well.

Don’t have the means for a hardcore survival retreat location?

Now, not having a good retreat location can be a problem depending on the type of event you are facing.  A green event is probably not going to be a problem where you need a retreat location, but then again it may be easier on your life and that of your family to still leave home for a while.

Depending on the type of yellow event; perhaps a tornado, earthquake, massive flood, or thermal nuclear terrorist event to name a few possibilities that affect only your immediate area, you may be able to go live with extended family 500 miles away for a few months.

A red event is truly the worst-case scenario, and more than likely it is going to involve something on a grand scale that not only affects the country but could affect the world and certain to involve a total collapse of society.

As mentioned before cities are going to be something to avoid, and the suburbs would be overrun with looting and scavengers as people flee the cities.  Having a good retreat location is going to help any prepper survive that normally lives near or around a city.

So what can a prepper do if they do not have the means for a secluded hobby farm, hunting cabin, or even just a second piece of vacant property out in the middle of nowhere away from channelized areas?

My first suggestion is to possibly try and meet like-minded people with the prepper mentality.  There is certainly better security to be found with good people and forming a ‘prepper group’.  Perhaps somebody in the group has a retreat location that everybody can use.

It may mean helping out with chores around the property to help keep it at the ‘ready’.  It may mean helping secure provisions and cross-training skills with the rest of the group.  Maybe it even means helping pay taxes or insurance on the property.

The key thing to remember is to be very selective with any such group you may look to join or form on your own.  Make sure you are 100% comfortable with the people and your interactions before getting involved too fast.

Another suggestion is to find a remote campground run by private mom & pop owners.  These campgrounds tend to be off the beaten path, so to speak, and are more than likely used by ‘regulars’ throughout the year.  Avoid the larger campgrounds like State Parks and KOA campgrounds, as these are at the foremost of people’s minds and are more commonly known and thought of, and are more than likely to be flooded with refugees from nearby cities and suburbs.

Possibly get familiar with a couple smaller campgrounds and find one that is a good fit for you and the family by going there to camp a few times or more a year, preferably one that has good pit toilets already in place and has water sources close at hand.

Get to know the people in the community around the campground.  You can be sure that other people will show up at a campground during a yellow or red event.  But the odds that the people that do show up are going to be people who are regulars at the campground and there will possibly already be a sense of community at such a location.

Now, if deciding to use a small remote campground as a retreat, the key to survival will be learning a variety of camping skills, having extra camping gear that is made of good quality materials and possibly even having extra backups of things like tents and clothing.

You also want to be able to organize with the other people who show up at the campground.  Organization means getting the group of campers together to work towards the greater good of the larger group by forming a solid community.

That means taking care of sanitation requirements for a large group, managing water sources for a large group, finding food either by hunting, foraging or maybe battering with nearby farms, growing food, and generally the sharing of some resources.

As for growing food, it would be a good idea to have a wide variety of seed bank seeds available, not only to meet your family’s needs but also extra to help provide for the larger needs of an entire campground.

An extremely negative reason to retreat to a campground is if the event that is forcing you away from the city is a deadly pandemic.  In the case of a pandemic, you will want to try and limit the amount of contact you have with people until the pandemic burns itself out, which the CDC (Center for Disease Control) says could take 90 to 120 days during the first outbreak.

By limiting contact with people outside your family or prepping unit, you will also want to keep anybody you come across at least several yards away from you just in case they are carrying whatever pandemic bug is out there.  Of course, limiting yourself and your group from people would be hard to do if retreating to a campground.

Of course, don’t forget to read the book “Dirt-cheap survival retreat: One Man’s Solution” written by the host of this web blog page.

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5 Comments

  1. We have an 11-acre farm plot in a rural area of similar plots. Homesteads are well separated in most cases. Its fairly open, some tree clumps, but heavy trees and brush along most fence lines compartmentalizing the plots. One thing I’ve observed. There are a lot of deer, which freely cross the plots. The barbed wire fences and tree/brush lines do not hamper their free movement. I initially thought that this is good, lots of venison. But then I realized that while homesteads are widely spread, there well still be a lot of neighbors shooting deer. It would not take long to hunt them out.

    • Gordon Rottmanr,

      Deer populations decreased substantially during the great depression of the 1930s according to my grandfather who lived through it.

  2. My father and mother who lived on Missouri farms through the Depression would agree with them. They told me the same thing. The occasional cow, calve, or pig disappeared too from the back 40.

  3. Another beneficial point about our property that I didn’t realize at first is that the front 5 acres with the houses, sheds, shops, etc and a large field behind them are backed by a tall and dense tree and brush line. Behind that is another 7 acres of fields and a pond. Crops planted in the back cannot be seen from the road and everyone assumes that the brush line behind the front plot is our back property line.

  4. My thoughts on obtaining a piece of property. This is what I am looking for when I get rich and infamous:

    This would be for a primary home, a second home/BOL/retreat, or a location for a minimal BOL (described in other posts)(My preference is a very secure home, with a series of these small, minimal, ‘hunting cabin’ plus cache BOLs.)

    As to reasons to bug out, my philosophy is to only bug out if staying is more dangerous, or will likely become more dangerous, than going. That covers many possibilities, but it is a decision that is very situational, dependent on many factors. And it will also vary with the capabilities of each of the places.

    Minimum of 100 miles away from any SAC base, missile site, naval base, military staging & training area, and major cities

    Minimum of 50 miles away from large cities, nuclear power plants, research centers, dams up stream from the proposed location, concentrations of potentially dangerous businesses (refineries, bulk fuel plants, industries using chemicals in bulk quantities, airports, rail interchanges, etc). Some people recommend being at least the average distance that most vehicles can travel on one tank of fuel. This is in the neighborhood of 250 to 350 miles. This makes some sense, but may not be practical in many areas. Major cities can often be closer than that. But more is better, though, up to the point where you can still have reasonable access to the city for those resources a city does provide during normal times.

    Near a small city or town of twenty-five thousand population or less, with a diversified economic base is best. Agriculture does not have to be the primary industry, but there should be at least some types of food production locally. Small truck farms are better than a huge single crop plantation.

    Preferably, the town will own and operate its own power generation plant as well as the water supply and sewer disposal facility. In some smaller towns, this is not possible, or even likely, but check anyway. You might get lucky.

    Make sure you have absolute right of way to the property. Some realtors will sell land in the middle of a tract that has no access. Beware.

    The lay of the land should lend itself to easy defense, or be easy to make it defensible.

    Climate/micro climate: The area should allow production of food crops with reasonable effort, and not have extremes of temperatures summer or winter. Green houses can off-set somewhat marginal garden conditions.

    Good southern exposure on at least part of the property

    Hopefully a wooded/forested area to the north of the property

    Flowing water is nice, a good potable water source is mandatory. Check out the depth, quality, flow rate, and expense of water wells in the area

    The ideal water situation would be a reliable city or rural water district supply of high quality untreated water, backed up by a twenty-five to fifty foot shallow well with a static water level of seven to fifteen feet and a flow rate of fifteen hundred gallons per hour or more of soft, uncontaminated water with a three-quarter horsepower to two horsepower shallow well pump with a forty-two to one-hundred-twenty gallon pre-pressurized storage tank. Finally, with a hand pump kept in good repair on the well you are ready for any emergency.

    The sewer disposal situation is a little different. Very few areas permit installing a septic system if a city sewer line is within two hundred to five hundred feet of the property line. You have either city sewer or a septic system. You cannot have both of them. An exception is where a new sewer line is installed in an area not formerly served by city sewers. There is usually a period of two to five years to allow everyone time to make hookups before the septic systems are declared illegal to use.

    If you must hook to the city sewer, be sure that the system is reliable. If it is not reliable during normal times you really have problems in a disaster. If reports indicate poor sewer service either find another place in the same town with better service, if possible, or find another area.

    Check on the availability of telephone, cell phone service, natural gas, and electric service before purchasing the land. If any of the services are not available, you must consider what alternatives you will choose.

    Besides room for a garden, there should also be space available for burying small amounts of human waste and garbage for a short time if it ever becomes necessary.

    Space provisions for dogs, cats, rabbits, and chickens, bees, etc., should be made if you ordinarily have them or plan to keep these animals. Space should also be allocated for any other special reasons you may have.

    Total acreage depends on how much elbow room you want, garden space needed, animal space needed, farm support crop area needed, firewood requirements, among any other needs you may have. I don’t think you can have too much land. Five acres if you aren’t going to burn your own wood for heat. Ten acres is better. Twenty-five should do. More at your discretion and bank account balance.

    If you are going to use wood for fuel, most forested lands can produce one cord of firewood per acre per year continuously by using coppicing techniques. Try to get double the amount of woodlot you need and set it up to coppice as you harvest the wood.

    Just my opinion.