Selecting a bug out location (BOL) can be a daunting task. Where should you go? What do you need to take with you? What will you need when you’re there? Can you defend it if you must?
These questions are all important and should be considered when you develop your comprehensive bug out plan.
Table of Contents
Ask Yourself Some Key Questions
I’ve written before on how to develop your personal SHTF plan. The same ideas apply here. You must think about your bug out plan before you actually need to bug out. When a crisis hits, time is of the essence. Delays in action mean reduced odds of survival.
Ideally, you and all your family members know what to do under what circumstances. They know where to go, when to leave, what to take, and where to meet up. Knowing this in advance will put your and your family’s survival plan on the right track, and such plans are indicative of becoming a more advanced prepper.
Consider the following questions as you ponder your bug out destination.
Where do you live now?
Take stock of where you live right now and consider what advantages or disadvantages your location offers. If you live in a rural area, your bug out location may be easy to locate, establish, and resource. If you live in a densely populated area, it may take much more planning and consideration to establish a proper bug out location (and strategy to reach it).
No matter what SHTF situation we will inevitably face, being in a dense urban center will only make things worse. However, without the proper preparations, a rural area with few people can also be quite challenging. In either situation, it is incredibly important to know and understand what challenges and advantages your location affords you.
They key to a successful bug out plan, however, is planning for the unexpected and having options (more on that in a bit). It is not impossible to imagine a situation where a rural family needs to bug out to the city. For example, let’s say that a rural Kansas family is smack in the middle of a deadly twister that ruins everything. It’s entirely possible that they may need to “bug out” to their grandparents’ home in Wichita.
What are your individual and family needs?
No matter where you bug out to, it is a vain effort if it doesn’t meet your needs. This makes each bug out location fundamentally unique as it is built to serve your unique needs. You must examine the needs your family has and tailor your bug out location to those needs.
When you are considering a location, consider questions such as these:
- Will it be able to store and produce the level of food needed to subsist for an extended period?
- Do you have unique medical needs that must be catered to such as insulin dependence?
- If you have to stay there long term, is there a way to educate, care for, and entertain children?
Not every bug out location is ideal for everyone. The classic idea of a cabin in the woods or a bunker buried underground may be worse than unrealistic, it may be dysfunctional for your needs.
Some bug out locations may be a camper in the woods. Others may be a family farm that has an extra room available. What is important is that the location chosen meets your individual needs.
How far would you have to travel to safety?
When it’s time to bug out, you are not going to be the only person attempting to leave. It is common for population centers to become deadlocked during a SHTF situation. The main concern in terms of distances for a bug out location is being far enough away from dense population centers that you are not caught up in the mass exodus and panic.
Your primary goal should be to avoid getting caught in a mass exodus while still being able to access a secluded, well-resourced location.
This heightened logistical concern will overtax the infrastructure and logistical base of the given area. Therefore, your bug out location should not be farther than someplace you can achieve with one full tank of gas in your bug out vehicle. Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to store gas long-term, but it has to be done properly; and “long-term” is a few years, after which point it should be cycled out.
If your bug out destinations require more than one fuel tank, it would be wise to store gas that you can take with you just in case. Do not plan on being able to refuel your vehicle to achieve extraordinary distances in the short term as the normal infrastructure is likely to be compromised or overrun.
How long might you need to stay there?
Another key planning consideration is the length of time that you expect to stay in the location. While you could save just enough to get you through a few days, it may be wiser to consider something longer term. If COVID has taught us anything, it has shown that crises can go on for a prolonged period.
Your bug out location that you expected to be in only for a few days may turn into a semi-permanent address for you and your family. Therefore, you should break your planning into three phases: short-term, long-term, and permanent.
- Short-term planning should be focus efforts on keeping you resourced until you can get long-term operations set up and going. Dry goods, water, and stored food should be available to provide instant relief from a SHTF situation. These are essential minimums to meet the needs of someone attempting to bug out. Your bug out location should have enough secure space to get you through 90 days. It should have the medical supplies that may be needed in an escape scenario. While short-term planning is the most talked-about part of prepping, it is only meant to be a bridge to get to a more sustainable way of living.
- Long-term planning is meant to get you from short-term bugging out to permanent living at your bug out location. Long-term efforts should help you prepare to live in your location for beyond 90 days and up to one year. This should include all the resources and accoutrements needed for trapping, hunting, fishing, and farming. This should help bridge the gap between the prepositioned stock of short-term supplies and the fruit from your more permanent planning efforts. If hunting/fishing/farming is not realistic at your BOL, it is not insurmountable to accumulate 90 days’ worth of food and water if you are smart and consistent with your efforts.
- Permanent planning should focus on getting the location ready to be in operation for years to come. This means having the ability to set down new roots (or re-establish old roots). Depending on the ndisaster, it could be that your old home is no longer suitable for life and your BOL is now your new home. Alternatively, if the crisis is a TEOTWAWKI situation, your long-term BOL must allow for a high level of self-sufficiency.
You May Need More than One Location
There is a saying in prepping that “two is one and one is none.” Diversity is wise in all things. You need contingency planning. You need Plan A, B, and C.
A bug out location is no exception. Do not consider a BOL – consider multiple BOLs! Multiple locations with multiple routes to those locations are essential. Life is highly unpredictable and disasters even more so. The nature of the disaster may make your preferred BOL inaccessible. Preparing for different locations to bug out to and setting up long-term operations is the safest bet you can make.
When selecting the location, consideration should be given to how you will get there. Local law enforcement, debris, crowds, or simple distance may prohibit accessing the location by the main route. If one location becomes inaccessible or cut off for some reason, then have alternate routes already planned. Having a variety of options available helps to mitigate the possibility of not being able to arrive at your bug out location. “Two is one and one is none.”
What to Look for in a BOL
The best bug out location in the world will do you no good if you can’t get to it in a crisis. During a SHTF situation, you may find that a BOL that is normally accessible from the highway is impossible to get to due to the traffic and people attempting to do the same thing you are. However, having a small flat area high in the mountains surrounded by steep ridges may keep people out, but it will also keep you out as well.
Bear in mind, a bug out location isn’t a pit stop, it is a potential long-term situation that you will have to contend with daily. If you want to go out and come back from it for supply runs or medical emergencies, accessibility will be a key factor in how tenable your situation is.
If you’re not planning to stay with friends, family, or bug out to a national park, you may have to look at buying a location.
Land value in the United States is on the upward climb with no real sign it is coming down soon; or if it does, it will then continue its upward climb. As the saying goes, when it comes to land, “they’re not making any more of it.”
While this has obvious immediate implications for the prepper that wants to buy raw land for a bug out location, it also has implications for long-term viability as well.
Property taxes are based on the assessed fair market value of the land in question. You can easily get into a situation where, when times are good you can afford to purchase the land, but when society takes a downturn, you can’t afford the property taxes.
Another trade-off that bears consideration is resources devoted to acquiring land could otherwise be directed to preparing for a disaster. With each land payment, money is being devoted to paying interest that could be used in supplies and infrastructure at the bug out location. Therefore, getting what is needed and nothing more is essential. The temptation to buy a large swath of land can be overwhelming, but detrimental overall.
Isolated (but not too isolated)
Population density of the location should be a chief consideration of the bug out location. People can be a great asset in terms of community and trading partners. However, with too many people come the woes of society in a collapse. Too many people looking for too few resources, crime, mass hysteria, etc.
I like rural communities that feel like they’re a step or two back in time.
It is essential to find a balance between too many people and not enough. You will need a community to leverage survival efforts and quality of life. Being completely isolated is almost as bad as being stuck in downtown Manhattan during a crisis. It is important to find the right balance between seclusion and true isolation.
In the early scenes of Red Dawn, the leader of the rebel band of Wolverines, Jeb, makes the case that he and his brother had “been coming to these mountains all our lives.” Though it is a movie, it highlights a very important attribute of a good bug out location—familiarity.
Few people like outsiders coming into their town and trying to change things. I see this just in my own state. If I was to buy a property in the more remote parts of the state that I enjoy visiting, I’m not sure I’d ever be considered “a local” without those familial roots others have. Nowhere is this more pronounced than on Maine island communities.
Now imagine if I was an out-of-stater moving in. Again, using our collective COVID experience as an example, there were many cases where people with second homes in Maine figured it would be better to ride out the pandemic here than their home state. This did not go unnoticed by locals as stories abounded of people yelling at drivers with out-of-state plates. I even know of a Mainer who was yelled at because they were driving a rental with out-of-state plates.
Whether you are bugging out to a location you have known for years like Jeb and the Wolverines, or you are looking for a completely new place, it is important that you know the intimate details of the land you are going to. One of the chief mistakes made by America during its operations in Afghanistan was this, they never really knew the land or its people.
A quality bug out location is one that you have spent enough time on and around to understand all the nuances of that place. This means the people that live there, their customs, the flora and fauna of the place, and the routes of travel.
Water and Food
It is no secret that everyone must drink water. The Mayo Clinic says that men need four liters of water every day to stay healthy. That is a considerable amount of water when multiple people are factored in, and water purification becomes an issue. Freshwater is growing more and more scarce as the population of the earth blooms and industrialized society demands more water per capita than it ever has in the past.
Did you calculate your water needs?
As a crisis develops and continues, livestock and agricultural operations may demand even more from the water sources of your bug out location. A bug out location should take this into account and have multiple reliable sources of water for the occupants of that land.
Food is another obvious necessity of any bug out location. Being able to catch, kill, grow, and produce food will be essential very quickly no matter what location is chosen. Having fertile soil for gardening, lush pastures for grazing paddocks and access to wildlands for fish and game is essential for any bug out location.
Of course, that plan assumes you have that know-how already. Having a stock of emergency seeds isn’t a bad idea, but contrary to what some think, they’re not going to do much for you if you’ve never actually planted a garden. Good luck learning on the fly!
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Bear in mind that in a long-term disaster, your BOL is not just a place you will go to hide for a few weeks. It could very well become your next permanent home depending on the situation. If that does become the case, you will need to be able to feed you and your family for the long term.
Another key consideration of any bug out location is the climate it is in. Obviously, mountain tops bring about freezing weather that is not conducive to livestock and farming. Deserts present some of the same challenges but with extreme heat and lack of water. Finding a place that is a habitat for both you and your family may be challenging depending on where you are in the country.
No matter what your situation, you must prepare your bug out location for the unique weather challenges that it will face. This could mean having a plan for a large amount of firewood for cold winter months if in the mountains or living below ground in the tornado-riddled plains. Considering the climate and thinking ahead is essential in determining a bug out location.
In a SHTF situation, resources will become increasingly scarce. This will drive many people to acts that they would have otherwise never considered. Therefore, making sure your bug out location is defensible is essential to survival. The US Army names the characteristics of the defense as disruption, flexibility, concentration, preparation, and security.
- Preparation is key in any defense. Making sure that you can live through siege tactics by having enough ammunition, water, and food is crucial to success. Your bug out location should be picked out with defensible terrain in mind. Placing yourself at the tops of hills, ridges, or terrain that forces attackers to places where you want them is essential.
- Flexibility is another key aspect of defense of your bug out location. You never know where a raid is coming from so being able to quickly adjust to a developing situation is crucial to survival. This means prepositioning ammunition, water, and medical supplies in different likely avenues of approach, will keep your bug out location defensible.
- The concentration of your own firepower and effort is also key to a solidly defensible bug out location. Making sure that your attackers can only approach from a few avenues helps you be more efficient in your preparations and more effective in the act.
- Disruption of an attack is crucial in winning a prolonged fight against raiders of your bug out location. This means being able to stop the attack as it progresses before it threatens anything you hold dear. Knowing the terrain you are defending, making preparations, and being physically fit enough to get behind attackers that are making a play for your bug out location is essential to a solid defense.
- Finally, you need to choose a bug out location that can be easily secured. You need to be able to detect any potential attackers’ reconnaissance and approach to your operation. Having the proper terrain that prevents your presence from being easily detected as well as allowing you to see out far easier than others to see in is crucial. Places that are elevated and heavily vegetated lend themselves to security.
Entire books have been written on this subject, and one of the best just happens to be one we published (through Prepper Press). Call me biased, but the reader reviews speak for themselves. Consider Holding Your Ground by Joe Nobody if you want to read more about defending your home in a crisis.
- Nobody, Joe (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
Waste management is another key consideration of a bug out location that is often overlooked. Like it or not, any living being produces waste. Burying or burning things may not be a viable long-term solution. Choosing a bug out location that is big enough for composting and having latrines far enough away from your home to prevent health hazards is crucial.
I have written about the Luggable Loo bucket toilet before, and that’s a great option for a short-term bug out or hunkering down in place during nuclear fallout, but it is less suitable for a longer-term crisis.
Special consideration should be given to the quality of the soil in and around the bug out location. If the situation demands a long stay it is possible that waste will be produced at rates that require multiple latrines to be dug. This can be exceptionally difficult work when done by hand and rocky soil is not conducive to that sort of digging. Further, rocky and sandy soil can lead to water sources being contaminated by waste finding their way into them.
Possible Locations – Pros and Cons
Here is a brief analysis of commonly considered bug out locations to encourage your own reflection on potential bug out locations. While this list is nowhere near exhaustive, it highlights the potential advantages and pitfalls of each of the options.
Friends and Family
Pros: When the chips are down, you can (almost) always rely on family and good friends to help you out. Staying with friends and family means many hands available to implement survival strategies. Just like primitive cultures all around the globe that live with extended families, many hands make survival light labor.
Cons: A person’s virtue is often their vice, and it is no different in bug out locations. With friends and family there comes a ready-made community and workforce, but with that comes different views on how things should be done. Therein lies the seeds of conflict. When resources get scarce and there are many mouths to feed the interpersonal dynamics can become crucial to survival.
Purchase Raw Land and Put a Camper on It
Pros: This is a simple way to put out to a location that is off the grid and away from the masses. Depending on the land and camper, it can be relatively inexpensive and cheap to maintain. It is also a very fast shelter in terms of construction, you can use it for camping, and the camper itself is portable.
Cons: While raw land has an appeal, it lacks the infrastructure needed for long-term stays when bugging out. To make it habitable, there will be an extensive amount of work needed to be done either in preparation or during the crisis. This can be expensive and taxing during times when resources are limited and tasks are numerous.
Stay Mobile with an RV, Camper, or Van
Pros: As the crisis develops and evolves, being mobile allows you to respond to challenges and opportunities as they arise. Most campers, RVs, and vans are set up to live through undeveloped or underdeveloped places with relative comfort and security. This minimizes the amount of work and effort demanded during times when stress is high and resources are scarce.
Cons: The biggest limitation to bugging out in an RV, camper, or van is the limitations of terrain and gas. Many times roads become blocked or congested to the point of impassibility and gas stations are renowned for running out of fuel in disasters. The last place you want to be is stuck on the side of the road in a place you didn’t choose with an empty gas tank.
Campgrounds & Parks
Pros: Campgrounds and parks offer space, water, electricity, and very affordable rates for short term stays. They typically come with some level of security and relatively pleasant surroundings with likeminded people.
Cons: While great for a short-term solution, campgrounds and parks are largely meant for recreation not long term stays in adverse conditions. Given that you are looking for a place to bug out to, it is likely that society is suffering some extreme challenges. This means that the park or campground that offered low level of security during the best of times is likely to be overrun and compromised in the worst.
Pros: The second home in a different part of the country can be made to meet the needs of a prepper’s bug out location. It can provide the shelter and stability needed to survive a SHFT scenario with exceptional comfort. Given that the home is owned by the prepper bugging out, it can be tailored to the needs of the prepper and resourced for long-term survival.
Cons: Second homes are expensive, there is no way around that. In addition to being financially expensive, they are also a burden on your time and already limited resources. Neglect in any way can spell disaster during a SHTF scenario.
If you do not upkeep the home, it will certainly have issues during a crisis. If you do not regularly visit the home, you may find someone else squatting in it when you arrive. No matter how you view it, a second home comes with a lot of responsibilities you may not be ready for.
Should You Preposition Supplies?
Prepositioning supplies has its advantages and disadvantages. First, having a prepositioned stock to fall in on can help alleviate the stress of the situation. Lower stress levels translate to better decisions being made and sets you up to weather the long-term challenges. It also circumvents the shortages of food and other goods that are sure to be in short supply as supply lines feel the impact of a societal collapse.
However, prepositioning of supplies comes at a cost. Having sunk so much effort into the location, a prepper will feel obligated to go to that location even if it may have been compromised.
Secondly, servicing and securing the location becomes a routine necessity and exposes the risk of the location being compromised. While neither of these are prohibitive criteria for stocking stores, both should be considered seriously before choosing to stock up on supplies.
Ultimately, it pays to have a disaster kit at the bare minimum. However, choosing to preposition supplies in large amounts will depend largely on your own needs and situation. If you have family members that need some sort of specific medicine or supply to live a happy and healthy life, it could pay to have a large amount of it on hand.
However, if you are single and can afford the flexibility, having a smaller more mobile supply could be beneficial. Each person must make their decision based on their own situation.
What is the ideal bug out location? Ultimately, the perfect location is different for each individual and their family. However, following some general guidelines can help you in selecting the right bug out location for you and your family. When the SHTF, it is best to have multiple routes to multiple bug out locations that have been intelligently preselected and appropriately resourced so that way you can survive.
What to read more? Consider these two books for more information on BOLs and bugging out:
- Adams, Jason Ryder (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- Aguirre, Fernando "Ferfal" (Author)
- English (Publication Language)