Bug Out Location Basics

If you’re new to prepping, you probably heard the term bug out location before (BOL, for short). It refers to a place that can host a temporary or a permanent shelter when SHTF.

However, most people think about permanent shelters, which is only partially correct. Some think about temporary shelters away from home when they refer to BOLs, but we’re just gonna focus on permanent retreats. We’re gonna leave temporary wilderness shelters for some other time.

Just in case you’re wondering about my own permanent bug-out location, it’s 52 miles away from where I live. It’s in a very small village with population of about 200, hidden between some of the most beautiful hills you’ve ever seen. That’s where I spent all my summers as a kid, living with my grandparents.

In what follows I want to talk to you about finding your own bug out location to hide at when society starts to crumble. We’re gonna cover a lot of aspects so let’s not waste anymore time!

Getting There

Getting there is the hard part and largely dependent on the natural or man-made disaster that occurs. Depending on the distance, you can get to it by foot or by using a bug out vehicle.

You’re gonna need to know as many different routes as possible to reach your BOL. Keep in mind that some of the main routes may be blocked due to calamity or by the police/national guard, so you absolutely need to have alternate routes to reach it. Secondary roadways and even the rail tracks are two options that come to mind.

Will You Be Moving There Permanently?

This is a good question to ask. If you’ve been contemplating moving somewhere quiet for a long time or if you simply want to be far away from civilization when it happens, you’re probably gonna want to move there full time. If not, you should keep in mind that you’ll only be visiting your location every once in a while and things might happen while you’re away.

The most dreaded scenario will be the one where you get there and your location has been looted. Protecting your BOL is just as important as protecting your home. Learn more about this here.

The Ideal Bug-Out Location

If you’re contemplating purchasing land for your retreat, let me give you a few pointers.

The ideal BOL should be close enough to your home

Yet far enough away from the turmoil that is about to happen. 50 to 100 miles should be far enough if you’re planning to get there by car, 25 to 50 miles if you’re planning to get there on foot. There are plenty of lists of the best states and counties to live off grid, but keep in mind that distance is also important.

If you happen to have something low-key really close and/or you don’t have the money for a car, the second option will do.  I should add there are other cheap bug out vehicles you can use, such as:

  • mountain bikes
  • skateboards
  • go karts
  • boats
  • or even inflatable boats!

Caveat: some people want their location to be as far away as possible because many disasters such as hurricanes affect entire regions so it would make sense to go as far away as possible. I agree with this logic as well but it’s up to you to decide where you want your BOL to be.

You want your location to be at least 50-100 miles off any coast. If a tsunami hits, you don’t want to be in its way nor in the way of those who will flee in your direction. It should also be at least 100 miles away from any nuclear threat.

In addition, it shouldn’t be more than 1 tank of fuel away. You might not have time to refuel or gas stations may be closed.

Tip: try looking at satellite imagery taken at night. This way, you’ll easily spot dark areas where the head count is low.

low key property

The ideal BOL should be low-key

It shouldn’t be something terrorists might think of bombing or the enemy soldiers might think of conquering (although if you’re in a village no matter how small, that might happen anyway). If it really is a small village, you should consider bugging out into the woods if this secondary location is compromised.

That being said, if you can build something in the woods that no one knows about,  that’s even better. If possible, make sure your BOL is not visible from above, in case a helicopter or a plane scouts the area.

river on property

The land should have several water sources available

A river on your property is a Godsend gift. A well, or the capacity to dig one, is mandatory. However, you don’t want your shelter to be visible from the river or from other water sources such as lakes and ponds. Make sure no one can spot your house or cabin from any point around those water sources.

You should also check the rainfall averages and think about means to harvest that water.

It should be able to comfortably accommodate everyone

If you have 3 kids and a spouse, that’s 5 people who’ll live there for months or even years. This isn’t just about square feet; you need to make sure everyone will have a place to lay their head at night.

You should be able to grow animals

Cows need a lot of food and water but chickens, goats, and sheep are a lot easier to feed and handle. When choosing which animals to raise, keep in mind they might make noise that could attract hungry zombies. Consider things like soundproofing your chicken coops

You need access to wood

If there are trees on your property, you could build your retreat in such a way that it’s camouflaged by them. And if there’s a forest nearby, that’s free fuel for your fireplace that’ll keep you warm during long, cold winters.

You need to think about growing a garden there

1/4 acre should be enough to feed an entire family, but the quality of the soil is also important.

A big plus: game availability

You never know when you’ll run out of food or, even worse, you can find your bug-out location ransacked when you get to it.

The land has to be reasonably flat

If it’s not, you’re gonna have a hard time building on it. Keep in mind you might also need to build a shed, a butcher shop, a chicken coop, and plant crops and veggies. Here’s a photo of Tara Dodrill’s shed below:

butcher shop

The land should not be at risk of being affected by natural disasters…

…such as flash floods, mud slides, or avalanches. Ask around to find out the last time a natural disaster like that happened. Don’t be surprised if the previous owner is hesitant about giving you an answer. Do additional research by searching for disasters that’ve happened in the past.

The land should not have any legal issues

this is very important. Sometimes you might be surprised to find out you can’t grow livestock or that you don’t own the water rights, or even the timber on your property.

You need year-round access to it

For example, if your property is inaccessible during winter and disaster strikes during this season, getting there by vehicle may be impossible and even getting there on foot could be difficult.

The location should not be visible from the main road. My grampa’s house is a good example since it’s positioned about 160 yards from the main road. Not a lot, I know, but the secondary road is curvy so you’re not able to see the house from the road. (There is also a very large walnut tree blocking the view of the house).

lp op outpost

photo above: an LP/OP outpost, very useful if you have a larger property, and want to spot enemies from a distance.

Types of BOL Retreats

A number of establishments can make good permanent bug-out shelters. A brick and mortar house or a wooden cabin are the most common choices, although a select few prefer to bug out on a boat.

Some people prefer to build true fortresses using nothing but sandbags. These are called earth bag domes and you should watch this VERY interesting video on how to make them:

Of course, if you’re up to it and have the budget, you can always build a bunker. Bunkers have somewhat of a bad reputation due to the fact that they’re expensive and not necessarily better at protecting you.

Plus, if you’re surrounded by your attackers and have no place to go, they could just smoke you out or wait until you need water or food.

My advice to you is this, if you really have the money to build a bunker, get two properties and build two bug-out cabins so you have two alternatives to go to if needed. Ideally, you want these locations to be in different directions from where you’re currently located.

How To Build Your Bug-Out Retreat

This is obviously not simple. It gets more complicated if you also need to lay a foundation so I’m not going to go into details here. One important thing you need be aware of is that you might need to clear the land first as there might be trees on it.

You should design your house in such a way that it faces south. Keep in mind that you might not have electricity post-SHTF so you’ll need all the sunlight you can get. Do the same with your barn and chicken coops.

Of course, one of your main concerns would be to properly insulate it. During winter, keeping as much of the heat inside as possible is going to be a top priority. Construct it right from the beginning so you can save fuel later on.

Your next concern should be to properly hide your food, valuables, and survival weapons. If someone finds your stockpile while you’re not at your BOL, they’re going to have all the time in the world to ransack it. Be sure to spread your stockpile around your house, yard, barns, and so on.

Don’t forget to slope your roof. When snow piles up, it’s going to exert a lot of pressure on your roof. Unless you’re there every time to shovel the snow off of it, you risk its collapse.

How To Prepare Your Bug Out Location

When you get to your BOL during a SHTF event, you probably won’t have anything more than a half-empty bug out bag. All your possessions from your primary location may be lost and the food and water you had was consumed getting there.

Needless to say, you need to have food and water ready and available. The trick is to split your food and water supplies between your home and your bug-out locations because you never know in which one you’ll end up living post-collapse.

Speaking of water, you should definitely have means to harvest rainwater because it’s free and you can never have too much of it. Have the containers in place to collect all the rainwater they can from the rooftop.

Next, you’re gonna need plenty of fuel. Propane, wood, coal, even solar panels, you should have as many options to heat your location as possible.

One thing you want to be really careful with is the possibility of house fires and wildfires. You should always have means to put out a fire. Always have non-potable water on hand and even a few fire extinguishers. Keep in mind the fire can start in your shed. This happened to one of my neighbors a few years ago – me and a few others were already pouring bucket after bucket of water onto the fire before the fire marshals arrived.

Next, you’re gonna make sure you hide your preps really well. Since you won’t be there most of the time, you need a way to make sure no one finds them even if they do decide to break in.

Last but not least, think about protecting your retreat, both now and after TEOTWAWKI. Without the rule of law, people might eventually take a shot at you, your supplies, or at your family. You need to:

  • block most entry points on your property, so you’re never taken by surprise
  • set up perimeter defenses such as:
    • motion sensors
    • security cameras
    • early warming EMP-proof systems such as bells
    • set up boobie traps
    • set up fox holes and strategic places around the house that have good visibility and will allow you to shoot
    • if possible, set up a tunnel from your basement or cellar to the outside of your property, so you can use that in case of an evacuation

Don’t Forget to Stockpile

If you’re gonna store some of your stockpile at your BOL, you’re gonna have to eat it before it expires. This ensures you always have delicious food when disaster strikes and that it will last you as long as possible.

Of course, maintaining a food supply at your bug out location is not easy. You’ll need to take frequent trips to your BOL to move food and water back and forth. Ideally, you should be using this location on the weekends to just go there, relax, and practice living off survival food. That way you’ll get yourself familiar with the surroundings as well as with all the various roads to get there.

Additional Tips

Think About More Than One BOL

No, I’m not saying you should purchase 3-4 pieces of land, build log cabins and start a stockpile on each. That could get really expensive. Any place you can stay for a few days can be considered a bug out location:

  • at your relatives in a different state
  • on a piece of land that may belong to a relative, friend or neighbor where you can set up your tent
  • a place in the mountains or the woods where you hike or camp
  • an abandoned building where you used to play as a kid

Know Your Neighbors

Even if your closest neighbors are 500 yards away, you should still meet them. They probably share the same ideas you do about survival so they have no problem with preppers or with people walking around with a firearm. Get to know them and start a post-apocalyptic home defense plan.  Plus, your neighbors might be able to check your house from time to time when you’re not there to make sure everything’s ok.

Start a Prepper Library

With no internet and, possibly, no power grid, you’d be glad you kept precious survival knowledge printed out. Besides, in times of peace, no looter will ever steal these books, so you don’t have to worry about hiding them too well.

(If Necessary) Change Your Phone Service Provider

If your current carrier doesn’t have a good signal on your property, consider switching to one that does.

Final Words

In the long run, we should all try to move to our bug out locations, because it’s the only place to maximize our chances of survival. This takes time and, for many of us, it takes money, because you can’t afford to lose your job and the income it brings.

Nevertheless, a bug out location can have huge benefits even before SHTF… it’s a place for you to relax, to teach your kids homesteading, and the garden you grow can bring you free, fresh, organic food for life.

So what’s next for you? Well, you can start by opening up google maps and look for possible villages to find properties. It’s 100% free. You can also start a new Excel document to write down all the properties you find. Add not just the price per square foot but also the advantages and disadvantages.

About Dan F. Sullivan

My dad was military. My grandfather was a cop. They served their country well. But I don't like taking orders. I'm taking matters into my own hands so I'm not just preparing, I'm going to a friggin' war to provide you the best of the best survival and preparedness content out there.


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    Good article, I’m in the process of planning my BOL at the moment and I am thinking of food resupply at the moment. I know how to hunt and forage but I was wondering about gardens. Since I’m not at the location for a long time (I may only go up every couple of weeks for a few days) I was wondering whether you thought it would be worth will putting in a garden/aquaponics system.

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    We live in a small city and my parents live about 30 miles away up in the mountains. Their house is literally the only house at the end of a three mile long dirt road straight up the side of mountain. I have started storing things like canned goods, beans, rice and dog food at their place (rotating as necessary) and they have a well and solar panels for electricity. I have mapped out several routes from our house to theirs and keep copies of those maps in our vehicles. My father is an avid hunter and can grow anything in the most unforgiving soil, my mother is a nurse and incredible story teller, and their nearest neighbors are an MD and his wife (who loves to bake from scratch!) so I feel like this is a good bug out location in an EOTWAWKI type situation.

    There is plenty of room for the two of us, our dogs, and my parents to live comfortably for quite a while and lets face it, my parents arent getting any younger and I would probably be so sick with worry about them I would be useless anywhere else.

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    the best bug out site may be what others abandon! Most think the city offers death. Life and death is where you find it. The ones who do not prepare for death in their own time shall have what fate hands them.

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