Choosing Your Ideal Survival Retreat

Choosing a survival retreat or prepper homestead is a major decision. It may mean relocating, making a loan commitment, and even altering your career choice. But taking this self-reliance leap can pay off with huge dividends… like saving your life.

One of the first things a person ponders when becoming a prepper is whether they want to bug in or bug out. A seasoned preppers soon learns that he or she must plan to do both. We live on a 56-acre sustainable survival retreat – yet we still have a bug out plan.

Check out my video tour of my survival retreat:

Planning and preparing to bug in is far safer and wiser than planning to bug out, and developing a survival retreat is the best way to accomplish that preparedness goal.

But, even if you find the perfect patch of land for creating a survival homestead, never grow so over confident or complacent that you do not also cultivate a thorough bugout plan.

Life can change in an instant, both now and during a SHTF scenario. Even if you live on a large and sustainable prepper retreat like we do and have a skilled tribe of fellow preppers riding out the apocalypse with you, neglecting to have a bugout plan could be a fatal mistake.

A fire, massive marauding horde, pandemic, military action, natural disaster or the nearness of the SHTF event could require either a planned or rapid evacuation from your survival retreat.

What Is a Survival Retreat?

There are two different types of survival retreats. One type is that on which you live on full-time, and is more commonly referred to as a survival homestead.

The other type of survival or prepper retreat serves primarily as a bugout location and a space you can visit regularly for hands-on training and preparedness activities.

Why Bug Out in the First Place?

There are many possible events that can threaten your life and property and force you to evacuate your home. Often a looming natural disaster in your area leaves you with no choice but to evacuate.

A threat where bugging out is mandatory would be in a chemical or nuclear fallout. If a catastrophe happens at a power plant within a hundred-mile radius of your home or city, then you will have to bug out or face being exposed to radiation and contamination of your food and water supply. Such a scenario would all but certainly kill you even if not immediately.

An epidemic that takes hold in your area is yet another threat that could force you to bug out. The goal during an epidemic is to avoid contact with any possible contagious diseases as well as securing access to uncontaminated food and water. Bugging out is the only option to ensure that this happens in the event of such an epidemic.

If your region is experiencing a long period of drought or food is becoming scarce, this is a sign you could be in for a long battle if you fail to bug out. Looters and angry mobs will form as people become desperate to get their hands on food and water.

The ability to bug out to a secret survival retreat where resources like food and water are in greater abundance could keep you protected from starvation, dehydration, and the desperate raiders looting neighborhoods.

Full-Time Survival Retreat

This type of retreat strives to be as sustainable as possible to serve the needs of the family or group on a daily basis both now and during a long-term disaster. Land is worked, livestock is raised, and food is preserved to increase food stockpiles.

Pros Cons
Living on-site at retreat – bugout location May require moving to a different county or region
You can grow your own groceries May require a career change
You can raise your own livestockYou may need to sell your home before you can get a new loan to buy the land.
Your water will not be dependent upon a municipality. Immediate and intense full lifestyle change if you lived in a city or the suburbs.
You can homeschool your children so they are not away from the homestead, and can infuse self-reliance skill training into their academic lessons.Your children will need to leave their friends and change schools or adapt to homeschooling.

Bugout Survival Retreat

A bugout survival retreat is typically, but not always, a smaller parcel of land than the type purchased for a full-time survival retreat later on.

Because no one will be living at the survival retreat full-time, livestock is not kept nor are gardens typically grown. But, the retreat is equipped with the structures, tools, and upkeep to start such homesteading survival activities when needed.

When a retreat is purchased to be a bugout location, it should be located no more than one hour away from the home. Even a single hour’s drive could be tricky – or deadly, depending upon the nature and location of the SHTF event.

The prepper must be ready to travel to the survival retreat by multiple routes, on an ATV, or even by foot if necessary.

Pros Cons
You have a destination to bug out to that you own, have fortified, and established necessary stockpiles. You will need a bugout bag to get to your survival retreat, but will not need to pack for a full bugout because your have waiting supplies.You will have to leave your home and travel to the bugout location. If the SHTF event is an EMP, you will be doing so on foot, no matter the weather, time of day, or amount of chaos the disaster has generated.
You will not have to relocate. You will not be able to grow your own groceries until after getting established on the survival retreat.
You will not have to change jobs.You will not be able to raise livestock on the survival retreat and will be unlikely to find any to raise after the SHTF.
Your water will no longer be dependent upon a municipality.Because the retreat is vacant the bulk of the time, it can become prone to vandalism, theft, fire, and squatting.
You have a place to go on the weekend and for vacation to practice your survival skills.Your change in lifestyle from the city or the suburbs will change drastically overnight while still coming to grips with the SHTF event instead of having time to adapt to life in a rural area before disaster strikes.

Both types of survival retreats come with a unique set of pros and cons. Far too many preppers allow the career change aspect to deter them from moving full-time onto a survival retreat, which I personally feel is the best and safest choice for you and your family.

barbed wire surrounding apothecary patch
Barbed wire surrounding my apothecary patch.

Issues to Ponder Before Deciding on What to Buy

1. Finances

The cost of living in rural areas is far lower than that in cities and the suburbs. It is possible to sell a home in a metropolitan area and purchase land with a modest home on it in a rural area without the need for a new loan.

I have known many a prepper who has gone this route and are now relieved their fear or moving for fiscal reasons did not deter them from making the leap into living a self-reliant lifestyle full-time.

2. Medical Care

Moving further away from a medical specialist or a doctor can also be worrisome for preppers considering moving to a rural survival homestead. While that is understandable, we rural folks can also suffer serious medical conditions that need lifelong care – we simply have to plan such visits out and travel a little further to have our needs met.

3. Emergency Services

Our rural county is served entirely by volunteer fire departments, and a locally operated EMS station. The typical response time to a fire, accident, or medical call is less than five minutes.

Law enforcement response times are on par with the ones noted above – there is virtually no violent crime in most rural areas – perhaps it is a character issue or maybe because there are multiple weapons in nearly every home by people who have trained to be excellent shots.

Children who grow up country often start learning how to safely handle a weapon and to hunt by the age of seven or nine.

4. Career Change

It is true that fewer jobs often exist in a rural area – or at least different types of jobs are in abundance. Thanks to technology and high-speed satellite internet, preppers can work from for a vast array of job types and perhaps even telecommute to their existing job.

Many people who live in rural villages (what small towns are classified as in my state) drive an hour or more to a job in a city.

If you buy a survival retreat that is a similar distance from your existing home you too could commute permanently or until you established a new revenue stream.

Starting your own home-based business is free from virtually all government intrusion in most rural areas. In my county there is no zoning or permit office of any type, except for well and septic installation.

homeschool mattress for toddlers
Part of my homeschool classroom for my nephew toddlers.

5. Schooling

The number of homeschooled children has substantially risen in the past ten years. The increase may be due to parental disenchantment with public school environments and academics or drastically relaxed homeschooling laws in all 50 states.

In nearly every, if not all states, homeschooled children can still participate in school sports and clubs, if they and their parents so choose. County or regional homeschool groups have also increased in number and are typically free to join, and generally have a Facebook page that shares event gathering and academic resource sharing information.

6. Isolation

If you are used to living without much elbow room, moving to a rural area could be quite daunting … at first. I moved from one fairly rural county to the adjacent one where I have now lived for almost 15 years.

I was able to shake the “outsider” label quickly because I relocated to become the new editor of the county’s weekly newspaper. I was able to meet folks quickly and was welcomed into the community in a short amount of time.

The bonds and closeness in a rural community run deep. If you choose to relocate to a survival retreat full-time, being embraced by the at least fairly like-minded people who share your new zip code will be an asset during a disaster.

Making friends will open up avenues for bartering and help you find your place in the new community that emerges during the societal rebuilding phase after a long-term disaster.

Whether you purchase a survival retreat to live on or just to use as a bugout location, get to know the area and the people

Being looked at like an outsider initially after the prepper land purchase might make you a little uncomfortable, but if the members of your rural community do not get to know you – or even recognize your face either during or after a disaster, you could become a target for distrust instead of a valuable member of the new community.

Children who will be relocating with you to a full-time survival retreat should also make some friends in their new township or county. Allow them to join 4-H, a scout troop, or a similar organization that should help reinforce your self-reliance values and teach them necessary skills while they too build relationships in their new home.

Survival Retreat Selection

Once you have decided on whether you are looking for a prepper retreat to bugout to or a survival homesteading retreat to live on, it is time to start dissecting the attributes of all available land in your price range.

Location

  • The survival retreat should be at least 60 miles from the nearest large city and at least 30 miles from a smaller city.
  • The prepper retreat should be located on a side road – preferably a dirt or gravel one. Do not purchase land located along a highway, state route, or busy two lane road of any type.
  • Search for properties with only one way in and one way out, like at the end of a dead end road.
  • Consider what borders the land on all sides. Ideally, you do not want to be able to see another home or road from your house.
  • The house, barn, and gardening area should not be visible from the road.
  • Many preppers, especially those buying only a small acreage homestead opt to locate near public hunting areas, state parks, or national parks. Doing so has both significant pros and cons. The obvious pros relate to hunting, water, foraging, and firewood. But the unprepared hordes and foolish preppers who’s survival plan consists of “bugging out to the country” will we converging on those same woods – making them both dangerous and over taxing wild game populations.

Acreage Amount

The amount of land you purchase should depend on not only what you can afford, but what you can reasonably defend. If you cannot stand over what is yours and protect it – it won’t be yours very long during a SHTF event.

Factor in the improvements you need to make to the property to turn it into a secure, stocked, and sustainable survival retreat when buying land.

Getting more land than you thought you could afford because the price is right will not turn out to be such an awesome deal if you over extend yourself and come up short when it is time to revamp the property and continue to add to you stockpiles.

horses on pasture
Just a small portion of my 56-acres survival retreat.

This is especially important if you are using the survival retreat as only a bugout location and will not be working the land full-time. You must stockpile enough food at the location to get you through to harvest time at the next growing season after you have bugged out to the property.

Grab a pencil and paper, and write a detailed list of what you want to do on the survival retreat to determine how much land you will need to accomplish those goals – even if you cannot do them all at once.

Land Attributes

There should be at least two (preferably three) sources of water. A well is common in a rural area, but unless you are using a solar powered pump or a manual well dipper, it will not be a reliable source of water during a long-term disaster.

Look for land that has a pond from a natural spring, a creek with steady water flow running through it, borders a river (which could be an OPSEC problem) or at least has a spot that will naturally accept a pond being built.

A partially wooded survival retreat is ideal. You will be able to have enough open space to grow food and raise livestock, but also plenty of firewood and hunting space.

All land is not created equal. The dirt that is under it will tell the tale. A cheap piece of land might have been strip mined, and boast poor quality dirt.

Do not hesitate to take a soil sample and to learn as much as you can about the history of the land and current gardening habits of the owners and neighbors.

Land with natural barriers like ravines, rock formations, heavy briars, get bonus points. Review the land keeping OPSEC, defense, lookouts, and natural “fencing” like thick briards and grapevine that can deter entry to your land and home.

There should be good southern exposure on your land for the growing of crops.

Making use of geothermal and building an earth berm home or one that is shielded on at least two sides by hills, can help regulate temperature inside the home, and offer more protection from the elements and potential attackers.

Energy

There’s a significant chance in a SHTF situation that the power will go out, forcing you to rely on alternative sources of energy. For this reason, you need to have at least two different power sources that you can use.

The three best sources of sustainable energy are wind, running water, and the sun. If you install a wind turbine, for example, you can use the wind to pump water and provide your home with power.

The problem with this is that if your home is in a secluded location and shielded by dense trees and/or mountains, there may not be enough wind for this to be feasible.

Sunlight may be a more feasible option, however. As long as you have just one open area at your retreat location that receives enough sunlight during the day, solar panels that you install can take that sunlight and convert it into power for your home.

Finally, a stream or river of running water can be used to deliver hydropower for your retreat. Hydropower can produce enough power for you to actually run big machinery if necessary.

A combination of hydro and solar power may be what you need to keep your survival retreat up and running.

The 5-Acre Survival Retreat

Enough land to put in a garden to sustain at least six people – if you use every inch of the space economically – growing vertically and in containers and raised beds for around the house landscaping and a ¼ of an acre ground plot garden for crops like corn and sorghum. Space along a waterway, providing it is not too shady, can be developed for rice cultivation.

Five acres is not enough to keep livestock that will need a traditional pasture to graze, nor will it allow you the space to raise and bale the hay and straw they will need.

livestock on our homestead
We free-range our animals on our homestead.

But, you can easily keep chickens, rabbits, ducks, a few pigs, and even pygmy or Nigerian dwarf goats – if the land is partially wooded for scrub browsing by the goats during the late fall through early spring. If the land is not partially wooded, you would need to stockpile extra feed and hay bales to feed the goats through the winter to have a milking animal.

The house should not take up too much space on a 5-acre survival homestead to leave enough room for growing and raising your own food and water sources.

To conserve space, build (or buy) a small house that sits upon a basement. If your family is large, put on a second story and learn to live simply (children can share rooms).

You will need to use the available firewood wisely. If you have never relied solely upon a wood burning stove or fireplace for heat, you will likely be shocked at how fast your seemingly large stockpile in the woodshed actually goes.

You should plan on supplementing the firewood you will have available with purchased piles, bags of wood pellets, and coal – all of which will take up space to store.

The 10-Acre Survival Retreat

On 10 acres of land you will have room to garden larger – but should still garden smarter and grow vertically, in landscape beds around the house and in containers on a patio.

To a city or suburban dweller, 10 acres may sound like a lot of land, but it if you are considering keeping a large family or small group on your survival retreat or large livestock, space will get gobbled up quickly.

If you could devote 2 acres to hay development and stockpile purchased hay and feed, there will be just enough land to keep a cow. Keeping Dexter cattle, a miniature version, would be far more beneficial from a sustainable grazing perspective. The cow will need a pasture area to graze that is separate from the hayfield; one acre will not nearly be enough.

You will have to get creative with your space, use the cow as a living lawn mower, and allow it to eat all the grass on the survival retreat that is not being used to grow food or raise other livestock – which means a lot of fence post digging will be in your future.

Keeping a miniature cow or a larger number of the livestock noted in the 5-acre survival retreat would be more highly recommended.

The home should be built in the same space saving manner as noted above, as well. This would free up the bulk of the land for food cultivation and livestock and water sources – which are far more important than a large living room.

On a 10-acre survival retreat your access to firewood and space to store it, will be substantially enhanced. It is highly doubtful that a 10-acre homestead will provide enough firewood to heat the home, so budget in the purchase of firewood into your survival plan.

Buying firewood during a long-term disaster may not be a realistic proposition – to say the least. Preppers living on or bugging out to a 5 or 10 acre homestead should invest in solar panels, hydro-power, wind turbines, and natural gas tanks to supplement off grid fuel, and power options at the survival retreat.

The 15 to 20 Acre Homestead

A homestead on this much land offers the space to cultivate both hayfields and pasture to support large livestock like cattle – and horses that could once again become the primary mode of transportation.

Ideally, a cattle herd of four beef cows and one dairy cow could be purchased to live sustainably on this size survival homestead. But, unless you keep a bull, the herd will not replenish itself.

Keeping a herd of goats, sheep, or a breeding pair of hogs – or a combination of these animals, will make your protein food source far more stable.

horses outside the barn
A couple of our horses on our survival homestead.

Living simply should still be a priority when it comes to home building or selection. Storage space for preps and room to preserve harvested food, are essential, but do not exceed the square footage space you absolutely need when laying out the footprint of your home.

Building a basement, an attic, or both to store preps would be far more advisable than taking up any more ground space for living quarters than you actually need.

On this much space, you should be able to provide the firewood you need to get through the winter if the retreat is partially wooded. But, the number of years you can do so on only 15 to 20 acres will be limited, and the fuel supply need to be supplemented with any or all of the options noted in the 10-acre survival retreat section.

The 25 to 50 Acre Survival Retreat

Now you are talking about a really usable and workable amount of space for a large family or prepping group. If you have the numbers to work and defend this amount of space you could keep a small herd of cattle, a few horses, goats, hogs, and poultry birds.

But, you will also need the equipment to bale hay for the winter months – and the stockpiled fuel to power the machinery – if it is not horsedrawn.

A partially wooded parcel of this size, especially if it is 30 acres or more, should provide ample firewood if you harvest and use it wisely.

lp op outpost
An observation LP OP outpost on my homestead, allowing us to see potential intruders from afar, and to defend our property.

Still, investing in other sources of alternative off grid power as noted above, it advisable.

There is room for a large home, barn, and outbuildings on a survival retreat of this size. Yet, concerning space when building the home will leave room to construct a medical clinic area, butchershop, blacksmith shop, reloading ammo area, as well as a shooting range for practice.

butcher shop
This is our butcher shop.

You can do large ground plot traditional gardening easier on a medium-sized survival retreat, but every inch of ground space used to grow crops is one less inch that can be used for pasture or hayfields.

Plan the garden wisely and make use of small spaces around the home for container and vertical gardening.

After Purchase Expenses

The odds of lucking into a property you can simply walk onto and it is miraculously ready to be a true survival retreat are basically slim to none. When touring prospective properties, take plenty of photos and videos to review later.

Get the deed and legal description for the property from the local courthouse to check boundaries and to help you determine the square footage available to accommodate your planned improvements.

Common Survival Retreat Materials and Supplies

1. Fencing – electric, wood, or barbed wire – or a combination of all three to place not only around livestock habitats and growing areas, but the entire property perimeter.

2. Outbuilding and Fencing Lumber – Even if you do not need to build a house, you may need to build storage areas inside of it, a barn, outbuildings, raised growing beds, etc. If you are buying a large survival retreat – over 50 acres, you could harvest your own wood to use as rough lumber for outdoor projects.

3. Power – Solar panels are not cheap, and neither is a whole house generator that runs on multiple types of fuel.

A generator that is capable of running on diesel fuels would allow you to make biodiesel fuel to power it when your stockpiles from the gas station run out. A propane-enabled generator will allow you to hook up to a large home size tank – with proper attachments, for an auxiliary fuel source.

4. Livestock Feed – The animals that will be providing you with meat, milk, and eggs, will require fresh straw for bedding, grain feed for part of the year, hay for herd animals, and vaccinations – most if not all, you can do yourself by purchasing the medication at a store like Tractor Supply.

5. Outerwear – Rugged clothing, jackets for all seasons, sturdy boots, muck boots, multiple pairs of work gloves per person per year, all can reach a hefty total and should be budgeted into the survival retreat purchase plan.

You will not be able to replenish a worn winter coat, thermal underwear, and waders during or even shortly after a long-term disaster. Working the land without those essential articles of clothing will prove incredibly difficult and lead to not only colds, but infections from simple injuries that could prove deadly during a SHTF scenario.

6. Home Building Materials – A lot of preppers opt for a beautiful or rustic cabin – sometimes built out of wood harvested from the property. While this is a money saver, using lumber to build your home could cost you a lot in the long run.

There will be no fire department to call during a SHTF event. Living surrounded by ample fuel for a fire can both easily and rapidly put you into harm’s way.

Building your home (or if possible all of your survival retreat structures) out of concrete and metal secure the structure against not just fire, but high winds, and make access to your house more difficult for potential attackers.

7. Greenhouse – You should plan to build a greenhouse so you can grow food as well as medicinal plants and herbs year round on your survival retreat.

Enclosing a porch on the prepper retreat home, as my prepping mentor Rick Austin did when developing his Secret Greenhouse of Survival, is both a cost and space saving way to do this – and provide extra head and secure brooding area for poultry birds at the same time.

Choosing a survival retreat may be the most important decision you make after labeling yourself a prepper. Finding a real estate agent who specializes in agricultural land is highly recommended.

He or she will show you properties that are not only going to be already set up to farm, but also will have the natural resources preppers will need to survival homestead.

Although they are few and far between, there are real estate agencies that specialize in survival retreat properties. Typically, these agents or agencies are located in Utah and North Carolina – but with the growth of the prepping community, there might be such a trained real property specialist near you.

Develop a realistic plan for improving the property to turn it into a true prepper retreat, trying to do everything at once can be overwhelming physically, mentally, and emotionally… and lead to failure.

The most important thing you can remember when choosing a survival retreat is to look at exactly what the land has to offer, and at what it can become with the skills and budget you have to work with.

Purchasing a survival retreat takes time, so why not save this to your Pinterest board for later?

survival retreat pinterest image

About Tara Dodrill

Tara Dodrill
Tara Dodrill is a homesteading and survival journalist and author. She lives on a small ranch with her family in Appalachia. She has been both a host and frequent guest on preparedness radio shows. In addition to the publication of her first book, 'Power Grid Down: How to Prepare, Survive, and Thrive after the Lights go Out', Dodrill also travels to offer prepping tips and hands-on training and survival camps and expos.

3 comments

  1. Avatar

    The worst backup power system is a generator that uses an engine (other than steam, which could be very good, provided your fuel is very clean-burning like anthracite coal or very dry Oak or something that doesn’t smell or smoke). Bear in mind that when it hits the fan it will become absolutely silent. I got rid of my generator for this reason. It would be heard for miles around and attract every desperate fathead to your stuff. Likewise smoke could be seen and/or smelled for a great distance and be a beacon for the unprepared.
    Fences won’t be any deterrent nor will be gates. Just look around any Walmart parking lot…how many pickup trucks do you see with trailer hitches and even winches mounted on them? $30 worth of chain and hooks and your “wall” is ripped away. A sharp ditch and armored draw bridge would be better. This also concentrates the assault for defensive measures so your sign “There is nothing here that is worth dying for” will deter looters to other less difficult targets.

  2. Avatar

    A small association of close neighbors who could team up with you if any one is assaulted would be great. It would require notice to this effect, however. I suggest the sign I see down the road a bit: “THIS IS AN ARMED COMMUNITY”. A pickup full of vandals would most likely look elsewhere rather than the chance of crossfire.
    The assault that doesn’t come is the best defense.

  3. Avatar

    I have 100 acres, mostly ravine running east and west for good south and north facing slopes. I have a high spring on the south facing slope that can be gravity fed to a building site. Where can I find information on micro (or nano) hydroelectric development of this spring? I am going to build into the hillside (limestone) and am thinking of putting in an underground walk in cooler and freezer using a stirling engine.

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