Sunday, July 24, 2022

The unreality of a bug-out location

A few months ago, I read an interesting piece on The Organic Prepper on the subject and importance of a bug-out location. Ideally, this is the fully pre-furnished remote location every good prepper is supposed to have up his sleeve for the inevitable time he'll be departing the urban dystopia.

The scene is always set for the prepper to arrive on his remote doorstep, battered but alive from his apocalyptic journey, and slip effortlessly into a self-sufficient lifestyle and live happily ever after. Or something like that.

The ideal Bug-Out Location, the article tells us, should have the following:

• Isolation from major population centers

• Shelter

• At least one-quarter acre of land with excellent soil (for gardening); more land, if possible, to raise livestock

• A natural water source

• A nearby wood source (forest, etc.)

There's so much to unpack in this article that I almost don't know where to start; but frankly, all I can see is a recipe for disaster if people actually try to follow these recommendations.

The article makes it sound like an isolated shack in the woods is all you need to survive a bleep-hit-the-fan scenario, and everyone is already pre-equipped with the knowledge to grow a garden, protect it from deer or other pests, preserve the harvest, and, I dunno, live happily ever after.

But there is more – so much more – to self-sufficiency than a bug-out location.

If you're fleeing a genuine natural disaster (hurricane, wildfire, etc.), then either the evacuation is temporary, or your home is gone. There is no middle ground. If the former, then you can go home as soon as the danger is over, clean up the mess, and resume your life. If the latter, you'll have to start over, hopefully with the assistance of friends, relatives, insurance companies, and contractors.

I've had friends fleeing wildfires. In one case, some friends had the time to temporarily relocate their livestock to a safe location and literally move everything out of their home lock, stock, and barrel. Thankfully the fire missed them, so they took the opportunity to give their empty house a good scrubbing, then moved everything back in.

In the other case, the fire erupted so fast there was no time to do anything but flee, and our friends lost everything but the clothes on their backs. Their home was burned, much of the infrastructure for their farm was gone, and the only reason their livestock survived is because the husband was able to dash in among the flames and release the horses and cattle to a more distant pasture. Friends and neighbors rallied around to aid them, and they're slowly getting back on their feet.

But these are not the situations preppers talk about when they describe bug-out locations. Instead, they set up the scene for fleeing the apocalyptic bleep-hit-the-fan scenario in which cities abruptly become unlivable. This is the setup for which they urge bug-out locations.

But a bug-out location, to be an effective, long-term, and self-sufficient option, has to be so much more than a shack in the woods with a creek running nearby.

First of all, even with all the skill in the world, it will take – at minimum – three months for the refugee's garden to start producing food. (This assumes they were able to plant the garden in a timely fashion and protect it from pests during the growing season.) But what will they eat until their garden is ready? What if they arrived at their bug-out location in the fall or winter (or even in mid-summer), when gardening isn't possible? Do they have sufficient food storage already in place at their remote location to tide them over?

Besides, most people do not leave urban areas possessing the full knowledge and skills necessary to become self-sufficient immediately. Speaking from experience, it takes years of trial and error. To assume you can arrive, panting and dirty, on the doorstep of your bug-out location, remove the backpack from your aching back, and know what to do next is asking a lot.

Additionally, unless the prepper is willing to adopt a hunter-gatherer lifestyle (in which case they're going to need access to a heck of a lot more than one-quarter acre of property), they're going to need a lot of tools. These must either be pre-located at the bug-out location, or brought with them (and trust me, these tools won't fit in a backpack). The list of tools is formidable and includes everything from gardening implements to a pressure canner. Unless the "bugged-out" prepper has access to the tools necessary to live self-sufficiently, he's going to fail.

This is why these kinds of unrealistic "armchair prepper" articles make me despair. We've been involved in the homesteading movement for decades, and we're still learning, still failing, still trying new things. To give someone false hope that they can waltz – tra la la – onto a raw piece of land with a ramshackle shack and transform it into a thriving self-sufficient homestead within a matter of weeks is criminally misleading.

You're not going to your bug-out location for a two-week vacation (that's called a vacation home). Instead, you're going to your bug-out location to survive an apocalyptic situation.

This is not meant to discourage anyone from purchasing land and developing it into a homestead. Quite the contrary: if this is your dream, I urge you to follow through with all possible speed. But it should be a lifestyle, not a place you think will be ready for you in the bleep hits the fan.

It takes time to develop a piece of land into something that will provide your physical needs. My advice: Get started NOW.


Don and I discussed this subject, and he wrote the following:

It's possible, when you read the above, you said to yourself, "Gee, Patrice is being a bit harsh."

Well, let me tell you that compared to my take on the article in question, Patrice is being far too kind. I'll begin with the general tenor of the article she references.

The author seems to suggest that everything you need to do for developing and maintaining a successful "bug-out" is outlined in his 1,800-word essay. Aside from this being impossible (considering all the permutations involved in locating, purchasing, constructing and maintaining a viable "shelter" in the wild), the author glosses over so many vital concerns as to make the piece worse than useless, moving it solidly into the "dangerous to deadly" category.

Here's a few of his knuckle busters:

• "In this review, we will assist you in choosing a perfect bug-out location where you will have totally secure retreats and enjoy your stay there."

There is no such thing as either perfection or total security in any bug-out location, especially if you don't live there full time. I don't care how crafty you are in purchasing the land or how stealthily you sneak in one 2x4 at a time to build your "shelter" or how far out into the wilderness you go. Someone local – logger, hiker, moonshiner, weed grower, forester – will soon know you are there and will just as quickly spread the word to others. Never doubt the power of the country grapevine. I suppose it's possible you might set up your shelter inside of a hollow log or under a rock pile and get away with being unnoticed for a while, but hollow logs are hard to heat safely and rock piles are there for a reason, often related to unstable slopes above you.

• "[Your bug-out] has to be located quite far from your main house, as you want to be able to escape from your area when any type of emergency starts. Thus, usually, such constructions are located in very remote areas, but the distance from your residence is not the main characteristic."

Aside from the fact that the author contradicts himself in adjacent sentences, the distance between your residence and your bug-out should be a short as possible based on the reasonable disasters you anticipate. If your main concern is a tsunami, having a prepared retreat inland above the anticipated high water levels is smart. If your fears are at the other end of the spectrum – such as nuclear winter or a planet-killing asteroid strike – your best bet is to make sure that you'll be accepted into God's house (which actually is a good and inexpensive strategy regardless of whatever other plans you make). But assuming your earthly concerns are somewhere in between, you want your established bug-out to be located where that you can get to safely and quickly, if for no other reason than that you can check up on it regularly and do such stocking and maintenance as needed to make sure it will be ready for your use. Realistically, the best-case scenario is to live full-time in your bug-out location.

• "A long distance from your home to the bug-out location is important for your safety" and "That is why the distance from your permanent residence should not be too long and too short as well."

Before I go off on the author too much for the above sentences, he does provide specific distances based on travel methods and potential calamities. For example:

• "Using a vehicle – from 50 to maximum of 100 miles" and “Bear in mind that there can be no opportunity to use gas stations. It means that the shelter should be no further than one tank of gas away.“

The main criteria for this distance to your perfect bug-out seems to be your mileage. (Professional hint: try to find a vehicle which can go at least 100 miles on a tank of gas; might want to avoid an EV.)

• "Walking to location – from 25 to maximum 50 miles"

First off, if you live in a major city, you won't even find yourself out of the suburbs at 50 miles. Additionally, what exactly do you think the other refugees are going to do to you and your large and heavy backpack as you limp by on your blistered feet?

• "If you want to hide from nuclear war or tsunami – 100 miles"

Just stop. Please stop.

I thought I'd go farther in reviewing this article, but I have other more important things to do (Sunday nap).

Just understand that there is nothing in the "expert" article under review that will keep you safe. Absolutely nothing.

If you're rightly concerned about living in the cities during these increasingly troubling times, here is the best advice I can give you:

Get out of there now. Sell out and move to the country. Buy a fixer upper and fix it. Build a garden and raise livestock. Learn to preserve food. Learn a new set of skills. Meet, listen to, and become neighborly with the locals. Find a local job or make one. Attend a church. Join a fraternal organization. Stop and smell the roses. Exercise and learn about your area with long backwoods drives and boots on the ground. Homeschool if you've got kids.

I can't promise you that you'll have the perfect bug-out, since perfection is a goal and not a destination, but at least you travel time will be nil.

And if you plan right, you can take tsunamis off you list of concerns.


    You are soooo right. Bugging out or even extended "camping" is a learned skill set, which not many people are seriously practicing. Same with gardening or raising livestock, to say nothing of learning to forage or any of the other more difficult skills.

  2. It does appear that some of the sheep are starting to wake up.

  3. Neither Tommy nor I are capable of doing any of this. We will just die of whatever is happening. I was told to pack a five-gallon bucket and walk. Well, I cannot walk to the car with a bucket that size. Living off the land is a skill. I can can it or dehydrate foods. But, I cannot carry the dehydrator or canner to the car.

    Thanks for refuting this and bringing sanity to the subject.

    1. well said, pp. as an arthritic 70= yer old widow of extremely limited means i won't say i despair but i feel helpless when i read such articles.
      we have to depend upon Jesus to get us through [ like corrie ten boom].
      if anyone should have such a location he would arrive, his backpack on his back, to find it already occupied by those unwilling to let him take possession of his own property.

      thanks don and patrice for this article .
      have posted to facebook

      you have made me feel better about not being super prepper.

  4. I pity the fool that thinks that they can go out and plant a garden and not realize that it can be destroyed overnight by neighborhood wildlife or in a few hours by their own livestock. Some people actually think that a fence will reliably hold hogs, cattle, chickens, or goats. *sigh* We have good fences, but the livestock have a lot of time to test ways to defeat it while looking all bucolic and peaceful.

    1. “We have good fences, but the livestock have a lot of time to test ways to defeat it while looking all bucolic and peaceful.”

      Amen, boy that got a chuckle out of me.

    2. I listened to a fascinating audiobook last summer while working around the farm. It was called "104 Horses." It chronicles the real life experiences of a family in South Africa after they were pushed off their land. Highly, highly recommend!

      Anyway, one of the issues they constantly had to deal with was people stealing the wire from their fences. Their horses were released onto the road and one or two were hit by trucks and killed.

  5. We have quite a few families round about who are "secretly" prepping bug out spots. I think some of them may have made some headway, but they struggle. They have jobs, children, schools, and all sorts of things to deal with, plus two residences ( mortgages), and it would be simpler to bite the bullet and move. I think the problem is they don't want to move, and don't want this lifestyle in the first place. They are prepping a place to go in case they Have to go. I think that's going to be too late.

    Another set of folks is a rather large group. City people think in terms of city lots. Even with the land they've bought it won't sustain the group. And I don't see any efforts at gardening. They hunt year round (for out of season game) and shoot guns a lot when they're around, which thankfully can be as little as once a month, but still. My patience is wearing thin. I feel they are a threat. They have eroded the wildlife population, and if something dire were to happen, I think they will turn into scavengers.
    I have helped them in major ways a couple of times and was promised specific things in return. Not once have they ever kept their word.
    These are not neighbors. They are wolves in sheep's clothing. Make no mistake. Some people like them and that's fine. But they haven't ever kept their word with them either.
    We have to be aware.

    I think this is a good topic, but to me, the biggest hindrence to bugging out is mindset. City folks are used to instant solutions, relatively speaking. Eating out or getting delivery. A vast choice of contractors for fixing and doing . Being entertained and entertaining. Medical professionals easily accessible.
    Not all of them fit in this box, but so many of them will probably never be able to flex their thinking enough to make it in the country. The smarter ones are preparing to bug in. Especially since they don't want to leave in the first place.

  6. For those who have been working on a supposed "bug out" place, if you don't live there full time and have your presence on your property, there are those who will take advantage of that. You may leave your present home to go there to find someone else knew about your bug out location and will try to take up residence. I live in Michigan and I knew a man about 15 years ago that inherited his family cabin up in the UP. Because he was unable to go there often he found out that it wasn't going to work out because he found people there when he went to check on it and he also found that people were stealing things from the cabin as well, breaking locks, breaking doors in to get into the cabin. He made repairs, but it was futile. He finally gave up and sold the place because he said it wasn't worth the worry and his last thought was if he needed to be there if things got bad, he knew he may have a problem with someone being there that didn't want to leave when he arrived and that could be a very dangerous situation.

  7. a bug out place in the woods sounds like a good idea... untill.... Billy Bob and a few of his red neck buddies show up to "live off the land", drink a few cases of the beer they included in their bug out preps, and light a huge bond fire...which burns down the forest you are hiding in.
    now what do you do??

  8. As mentioned above, the only feasible bug out location is one with full time residents who expect you and will welcome you - the farm Patriots by Rawles centers around is a good example. As mentioned above, too many things can happen if the location is empty (and in some areas, even a few days empty can be a problem).

    And then you need to balance distance, the neighborhood, climate, and on and on...

    1. "A few days empty...", gosh. It has been my experience living in the country that no matter how remote you may feel you are for practical purposes, people learn your schedule.
      When your phone rings nowadays it probably is a robo call. But sometimes it may be someone learning your schedule.
      I have had my house broken into and robbed in broad daylight while at work. It's not good to keep a routine, and even then. The last time my house was broken into I had taken an animal to the vet. They got nothing, but now they've scoped things out. You can never afford to relax your guard. Plus, if you call law enforcement, it may take DAYS for them to come. They have too much to do in populated areas.

    2. I live outside a town of 4,000 in a county of 6,000. The nearest county of over 50,000 is 200 miles away (county, not city). Local LE doesn't have jurisdiction over any populated areas.
      over 20% of my county has a CCW permit - and that's total population, not adult population.

  9. I didn't bother to take the time to read the article but from the excerpts, it sounds as though the author is not only illiterate in homesteading but nearly illiterate in the English language. Sounds like one of those fake blogs written by the Chinese and translated by Google. Ugh.

  10. Good post and nice to hear from Don. My favorite which I actually heard someone say was, “I have seeds, I’ll just throw them on the ground.” They were completely serious.

    1. I think that was Bloomberg in a televised interview. A lot of laughs...

  11. From that article, "Escape from densely populated areas requires hours of planning and knowledge of basic survival from you." He forgot to mention you'd also need a boatload of money to buy and set up said bug-out spot.

  12. Well said, Patrice and Don. Having moved from the PNW to the Republic of Texas, my possible bug out locations have vanished. Bugging in seems to be the way to go now. Glad to see y'all are doing well.

    1. From Don. Hi Dan. Glad to see you escaped. Give me a call sometime.

  13. Now add another layer to this, I am English, in England and like so many of my countrymen we read these articles in total despair. You see we do not have forest or wilderness areas to 'bug out' into. Well perhaps some remote areas that are uninhabitable and un-growable. I read these articles in a state of amazement. Apparently we are supposed to have five gallon buckets of beans and rice buried waiting. Now as an English person I have no idea what I am meant to be doing with beans. That aside most prepper articles are so far removed from our lives as to lead me to the assumption that the whole of the UK will die. So I can not legally have any guns or weapons. I can't bury anything at non existent bug out locations and to be honest I think that within an hour of any disaster all roads will be gridlocked. We also can not build anywhere at will and need permission to build extensions to our homes. We live in smaller homes than the average American and don't have space for lots of supplies. In fact if my maths is right ( yes we do have an s on it ) our bungalow is 8sq meters which is 690 sq feet being considered suitable for three people. We have no choice but to bug in. Our garden is too small to grow much and i'm sure our two hens would disappear within hours. Do that mean we are planning on rolling over and dying? Hell no! Your forests however are going to be littered with the bodies of failed preppers who thought a bucket of beans and a packet of seeds would save them. I, and my friends maintain that as spinners and weavers we have much needed post apocalyptical skills. I have been told seriously by American survivalists that my skills are useless because there will be enough empty shops to loot to keep everyone protected for years. The logic or lack thereoff of being in the middle of the woods and looting shops in a town for blankets thus exposing your existence......well i'm going to leave that one to you to work out. Survival is a daily mental exercise. It is not an event. Yes, of course buying the right equipment and being ready for emergencies is important, being ready with a bag of essentials is a good idea- who knows when it might be needed. keeping the car over half full at all times is a good idea. However surely the most likely scenario is an EMP? Most cars will be useless. Having sharp knives will be good- so having and knowing how to use a knife sharpener is good.... Actually knowledge and awareness is most important along of course with a belief in Jesus.

    1. From Don. Hi Mandy. I can understand your concerns. But one of the concepts I've always taught was the three legged stool of prepping. Your understanding of spinning and weaving is certainly part of the knowledge leg. It's really not that hard to get some rainy day supplies together for another leg. Just a few things stored under a bed or in a shed can feed you and yours for months. But in every case, the most important leg is community. If you haven't already, work on connecting with your neighbors. People who decide to head off to the woods and go it alone are doomed. But a strong community of people who work together can survive. You live in a land with a long tradition of surviving and overcoming hardships. You come from a historic warrior nation. While both your country and mine may have drifted away from our ideals and our past, I refuse to believe that those virtues are gone. Rule Britannia

    2. Hi Mandy. Don is absolutely correct. Knowledge of craft/cottage industry is extremely important. Skills are very tradeable. After an event where modern manufacturing and banking has broken down, the value of a person will be directly related to how much they can contribute to the immediate welfare of the community. Yes, that could be in a commune environment or in a more barter type economy. Personally, I can't weave, but I would be more than willing to trade my woodworking/metal working skills for a good blanket!

  14. Patrice and Don pretty much nailed it. Basically, if you live in a City (especially a blue one) and the SHTF you are not getting out alive, especially if you happen to be female. The type of "people" most likely to survive are the predators (gangs especially), and they will take everything they want, especially from you. Additionally, look up the term "choke points". It's an interesting concept. It basically states that NOBODY will be able to get out of metropolitan areas due to the natural and man-made choke points. NOBODY will be able to get out of Portland, San Francisco, or much of the Bay Area. NOBODY will be able to get out of Seattle. If you aren't already living in your "bug out" location, you will never get there. On top of that, the locals most likely will NOT let you in from a urban area for a multitude of reasons, like radioactive, disease carrying, nothing to offer locals to survive like manual skills (sorry guys, coding isn't going to help much in a SHTF situation).

    The majority of articles such as the ones mentioned are either to sell the truly foolish a lot of garbage products that they will never use, or, because the "author" is making a lot of money on the scare factor writing such bs articles.

    If you live in a City and have any brains (not likely if you prefer urban living), GET OUT NOW before the SHTF, and pay attention to what Patrice and Don said in their article.


  15. "Walking to location – from 25 to maximum 50 miles", this is an absolute fantasy. Think about the people who will circle the parking lot 3 times at Walmart to get a closer parking space to stock up on their prepping supplies. Now they are going to walk 50 miles at an unplanned time? What if it is raining? Or 100 degrees, or snowing?

  16. Very well written, thank you.