The Realities of Choosing Your Survival Retreat Location
Unfortunately, having a ‘Plan B’ just isn’t the modern American way. The great and diabolical misfortune of having two to three solid generations of assumed prosperity in one’s culture is the side-effect it has of lulling the populace into comfortable apathy. “Prepping” becomes a kind of novelty; a lifestyle that people joke about while planning out their next vacation or their next suburban home purchase. It’s something that others consider in that fleeting moment in front of the television while witnessing the news of a catastrophe on the other side of the world, only to be forgotten minutes after changing the channel. Such things do not happen here. Not in the United States…
I am a child of an age laden with illusory wealth, and have benefitted (for a short time at least) from the financial fakery of our economic system, as have many Americans. Most of us have not had to suffer through the unmitigated poverty, hopelessness, and relentless fear that are pervasive in harsher days. All our problems could be cured with money, especially government money, and as long as the greenbacks were flowing, we didn’t care where they came from. Ultimately, though, the ease of our well-to-do welfare kingdom has set us up for a cultural failure of epic proportions. Anytime a society allows itself to be conditioned with dependency, its fate is sealed.
We do not know what crisis really is. Many Americans barely have an inkling of what it entails. We imagine it, in films, in books, and in our own minds, but the fantasy is almost numbing. We lose sight of the tangible grating salty rawness of the worst of things, while imagining ourselves to be “aware”. Most people today are like newborns playing merrily in a pit of wolves.
Preppers, on the other hand, are those who seek to understand what the rest of the public goes out of its way to ignore. They embrace the reality and inevitability of disaster, and suddenly, like magic, they are able to see its oncoming potential where others cannot (or will not). The price they pay for this extended vision, however, is high…
I see the prepper generation as a generation of sacrifice; men and women who must endure the collapse of the façade for the sake of an honorable future society they may not live to experience. Modern day Cassandras? Hopefully not. But, certainly a group of people who have lost much in the path to knowledge. We lose our blissful naivety. That which once easily entertained us becomes banal and meaningless. We set aside many of our dreams to make room for the private and public battle we must wage for the truth. And, in the early days of our awakening, we tend to lose sleep.
The primary advantage of this otherwise complex life is actually simple: we have a ‘Plan B’.
Independence, self sustainability, true community, and redundancy in systems; it’s all in a day’s work for the prepper. But, one thing tends to sit upon our minds above all else, and that subject is ‘home’. Not necessarily the home where we are, but the home where we will shelter during darker days. Call it a retreat, call it a bunker, call it whatever you like, but every prepper has to have that place set aside that gives him the utmost advantage while facing off against calamities that normally annihilate average people.
Choosing a retreat can be easy, or so difficult it explodes your brain depending on how you approach it. The problem I see most often with those seeking a back-up location for a collapse scenario is that they engage the process as if they are still living in 2006, hunting for their McMansion with a view on the sunny hillsides of Colorado or California, instead of thinking in practical terms. So, to help clarify a more fundamental approach to choosing a survival retreat, here is a list of priorities that cannot be overlooked:
You may be searching for a homestead property or a more discreet retreat area for only the most violent disasters. In either case, property placement should be your number one concern. Where is your subject property located? What are the strengths and weaknesses, economically, socially, and legally, in the state you are considering. What is the disposition of the government and law enforcement in the county your retreat resides in? What kind of environment are you surrounding yourself with? These are all very important issues to consider.
Even more important, though, are the dynamics of the land you are choosing. Are you looking for a typical flat piece of developed farmland with easy access to roads and town amenities? Then you are going about this all wrong. Are you purchasing a cabin in the woods where you and your family will be isolated and alone? Again, not very bright.
The ideal retreat location is a combination of rugged terrain and varied topography that is just accessible enough, and set in proximity to like minded neighbors who will aid each other in the advent of a social implosion.
It may feel strange to consider it at first, but try to think in terms of an aggressive party: a looter, a criminal, or just a hungry refugee. Now, take a second look at your retreat selection. Is it easy to wander into? Can a person stroll right up to the front door, or do they really have to spend a lot of time and energy to reach you? Is it within sight of a major highway? Is it in the middle of a funnel or valley which people would naturally take to get to a tempting destination? Is it flat with little cover and concealment, or is it nestled in the midst of hills and crevices which can be used strategically? How many routes in and out of the region are there?
Crops can be grown in any area with any climate if the correct methods are used. Energy can be produced with a multitude of technologies and tools. Structures can be built to adapt to the materials that are most abundant in the region. However, once you commit to a particular environment and terrain type, you are stuck with it for good. Choose wisely.
As mentioned in the section above, isolation should NOT be the goal here. The concept of the loan wolf survivalist waiting out the implosion with his family in a secret fortification is not realistic, or likely to work at all. In the most volatile of collapses, such retreats only offer a tempting target for unsavory characters, from Bosnia to Argentina and beyond. If you don’t have a community of preppers around you, you have nothing.
Ideally, choosing a retreat location, especially for a homestead in which you will be living on a day to day basis, should be done with multiple families involved. The more preppers involved, the larger the perimeter of warning and defense, and the safer everyone will be. It is not enough to have a friend or two on the other side of town, or to have a couple neighbors who are open to the subject of collapse but have made no efforts to prep. A return to a true community foundation is the surest way to secure your retreat. There WILL be people who will wish to take what you have in a crisis situation. Your best bet is to surround yourself with people who already have what they need…
In Montana, I have used the idea of “Land Co-Op Groups”, expanding on the barter networking concept to include helping people of like-mind to meet and find property within proximity of each other, or to choose mutual retreat areas where there will be safety in numbers. Explore real estate markets near family members who are on the same wavelength. Talk with existing prepper communities and see if you might work well together. Form your own group of land seekers and make purchases together, saving money for everyone. Know who you will be weathering the storm with!
This has been mentioned in previous sections, but let’s establish what defensibility truly involves. Do the natural features shelter you, or hinder you? How many lanes of sight are near your retreat and will they work to your advantage, or someone else’s? Is your homestead on the top of a wide open hill and visible for miles around? Will attackers exhaust themselves attempting to reach you? How much warning will you have if someone is approaching your location?
Make sure your surroundings work for you. Folds in the land topography not only off greater surface area for your money, but also cover and concealment. Forget about beautiful views, perfect soil, and room for a gazebo. Is the retreat actually protecting you or not? If this single issue is not considered and resolved, nothing else matters.
This is why I recommend starting from scratch with raw land if possible. Many people dislike the notion of building their retreat or homestead from the ground up, claiming that there is not enough time, or that the project will be too costly. This is not necessarily true, especially for those who plan the construction of their retreat around off-grid living strategies. Raw land purchases, depending on the region, can be highly affordable. Building using present materials, like native timber, reduces costs drastically. And, as long as your house plans remain simple, construction can be started and finished within a matter of months.
When building from scratch on raw land you have chosen using the guidelines already discussed, you can place your living quarters in the most advantageous position for defense, while being able to reinforce the home itself as you go. For those using an existing structure, the job becomes a bit more difficult. Additional fortifications will have to be planned carefully to adapt to the framework of the building. Weak areas of the property will have to be strengthened using fences, walls, or strategically placed vegetation that frustrates approach. High points in the terrain should be used to establish observation posts. At every moment of the day or night, someone must be awake to keep an eye on the surroundings. Respect the realities of a collapse, instead of disregarding them, and your chances of success increase a hundredfold.
Many would place water resources at the very top of this list, and having an ample supply is certainly vital. Digging a well is a must. Building in proximity to a stream, river, or lake is even better. That said, rainwater collection is a viable supplement to weaker indigenous water supply, along with water storage done in advance of any event. The average adult human being needs approximately 2.5 liters of water per day to survive comfortably. The common vegetable garden needs around 2″ of watering overall per week. Bathing and general hygiene requires several gallons per week depending on how conservative you are. It is important to gauge the water production and storage capacity available at your retreat. If the math does not add up, and if rain collection is not enough to fill the gap, then move on. Find an area that will sustain you with water, but do not neglect the rest of the items on this list just to be near a roaring river…
This is an area with far more flexibility than most people seem to realize. With the right methods, a garden can be grown in almost any climate, and at any time of the year, even winter. Every retreat should be fitted with a greenhouse, and this does not require much expense, or even energy to build. Makeshift materials often work wonders and the cheapest greenhouses tend to supply as much produce throughout the year as expensive and professionally built models.
Raised bed gardening is efficient, requiring less water, and producing more food than typical gardens. Small orchards are possible depending on the climate and elevation of the property. Wild edibles in the area should be cataloged. Find out where they grow in abundance, how to cook and prepare them, and which edibles you actually enjoy eating.
Animals require at least some acreage. Two acres being the minimum if you plan to raise several species. Goats, chickens, and rabbits are much easier to squeeze into a smaller parcel than cattle or horses, and draw much less attention to your retreat. A single milk producing cow and a bull, however, have the ability to keep your family healthy and fed for a lifetime. The trade-off is up to the individual prepper. The bottom line is, the number of animals you plan to raise determines the amount of open field you will need to clear on your property to provide the grasses and feeding area they will require.
Proximity To National Forest
Another aspect to consider is how close your property is to national forest areas or unclaimed and unpurchased acreage. Perhaps you are only buying 5 acres of land in a well placed area which borders thousands of acres of forest service. Not only have you purchased the use of 5 acres, but the potential use of thousands of acres through attrition, while guaranteeing that no unpleasant or unaware neighbors will move in too snug next door. Abundant resources will be at your fingertips in a post collapse scenario, including timber, wild game, possible minerals, caching sites, secondary retreat locations, etc. The advantages are numerous…
Secondary Retreat Locations
Never put all your eggs in one basket. We hear that warning all our lives but few take it to heart the way they should. I have dealt with many a prepper who has become indignant at the idea of having to leave his home to escape danger, claiming that they would “rather die” than have to beat feet to a secondary location. I personally don’t get it. Fighting back is admirable, but fighting smart is better. There is nothing wrong with living to die another day, and this is where the multiple retreats strategy comes into play.
Some survivalists live in the city, and have set up a retreat in an area distant but reachable. Others have taken the plunge and uprooted to start a new life on the grounds of their new refuge, leaving behind the metropolis and sometimes even their high paying jobs. In either case, they have done far more for their futures than the average American has even vaguely considered. However, it is not quite enough…
Back-up retreat locations should be chosen in remote areas near your primary retreat, and very few if any people (even friends and associates) should be told about these places. Keep in mind, these are last ditch survival spots. They are not ideal for long term living arrangements. Little if any infrastructure will be built in these places, and all shelter materials should be heavily concealed. Caching sites should be set up well in advance and placed on at least two separate routes to the same location. You should have no worries over whether you will be able to feed, clothe, and protect yourself on the way to the emergency site. Hidden approaches to the area should be scouted ahead of time. A viable water source should be present nearby.
Thinking Ahead: It’s Pure Sanity
There are all kinds of excuses for not doing what needs to be done. Americans have an ingenious knack for rationalizing their own laziness and inaction. If you want to know how to get ahead in the world of prepping, or just the world in general, all you have to do is become a man or woman who makes a plan, and then follows through on it! Welcome to the top ten percent!
One excuse that I do in some instances take seriously is the problem of the conflicting family. We all know a prepper or two whose spouse or children are not on board, ridiculing or even obstructing their efforts. When expenditures of cash (or large expenditures of cash in the case of a property purchase) are in debate, the tensions can be crippling. In every disaster there are oblivious masses which make things hard on those who are aware. From the Great Depression and Weimar Germany, to New Orleans after Katrina, it is not uncommon for people on the verge of starvation and death to still assume that government help is right around the corner and all will be right as rain.
All I can recommend to those struggling with the survival-impaired is that you educate friends and loved ones on the nature of recent events like Katrina, or the economic collapse in Greece and Spain, or the tsunami and subsequent reactor meltdown in Japan. Show them that this is real life, not a cartoon. Make them understand that they are not immune to the tides of catastrophe, and that preparation is not only practical, but essential.
Survivalism is not a product of insanity; it is merely a product of our precarious times. A disaster is only a disaster for people who are not prepared for it. The only madness I see before me in our country today is the madness of those who believe themselves immune to the fall of the curtain. The true “insanity” rests in the minds of men who presume tomorrow will be exactly like today, and that the comfort of their existence is law, a foregone conclusion, set in stone, forever…