Picking a BOL by Pete Thorsen

Many people think that there are very troubled times ahead for the United States. Some who think that realize if that comes to pass their current residence could make their very survival problematic. So what to do? Move now or if tied down, like because of a job, etc, then maybe set up a bug-out-location (BOL). Great but where would you go? And what would be the determining factors in BOL selection?

The “where” and the many deciding factors will likely be different for just about everyone. And anyone who has ever been house hunting knows that buying a house or property is always about compromise. You are almost certainly not going to find the special perfect location, so you just choose the best location out of what you do find available.

The first decision is to decide to completely relocate now or stay where you are and just buy empty land, so that you at least have your own BOL. Once you have that, perhaps plan on slowly building that empty land up to possibly live there at some later date. Or you might opt to leave it primitive. Or if you have the finances you could buy a second home. Any of  those choices can be the correct decision. If you are married, this big decision would have to be fully agreed to by both spouses. Again that might, and likely would, lead to many compromises. Not a bad thing–and with two people you could likely think of more or better ideas.

Where Shall It Be?

Once the decision is made as to empty land or new residence, the next decision is where. Here again, it would be a question of whether you are totally relocating or just buying a BOL. If moving to the new location permanently, there might not be any distance worries. But if you are just buying a BOL then obviously distance would be an important issue.

Again such distance would be different for everyone. If you now have an apartment in a small city then a BOL only twenty miles away might be an excellent choice. But if you now live in a large urban area with other large cities close by then you might wish for more distance. The old rule of thumb was a place less than a half tank of gas away.

I would say that if your BOL were four hours or more away, then you would seldom go there. And because of the long distance, you might decide not to run there when you really should and staying in place too long might then prevent you from ever being able to go. Also, I would assume you might want to make improvements to your BOL. The farther away it is, then the less chance you will have to go and make those improvements.

This again would have to be a decision each would have to make for themselves. You might decide that for your particular case you want your BOL to be three states away. Maybe you will be buying a BOL now with the thought of a permanent move there in a couple of years so you decide it would be better to now buy a spot where you want to spend the rest of your life, rather than buy a closer temporary BOL.

What to Look For

What should you look for in a place? I would look for a place off-the-beaten-path. It doesn’t have to be ten miles back on a goat trail but just not next to a main highway or within sight of a town. Maybe just a spot a couple of miles down a well maintained gravel road off of a state highway or something. You want easy access for you but not a spot where masses of people could see you from a big highway. Look around and check on local conditions to see if that area you picked might be up for future local town expansion or a likely spot for a new suburb or retirement community or any other building plans. Most realtors know about future plans for their area. So pick a spot you are comfortable with, whether it is remote and only accessible with 4-wheel drive, or on a good road that you can easily drive your car to and from even in bad weather.

Many people want to get a BOL in the middle of a dense forest. That is, of course, your choice but that might have issues. It would certainly provide you concealment and a source of firewood. But it would also mean a real chance of wildfire burning you out. Also, dense forest would be difficult for any gardening. Also if you plan on using solar power or wind power, tall trees could cause issues with both of those power sources.

Trees can be cut and removed but removing the stumps and roots of those trees so you can build a house or even a garden will be more difficult. Digging even a post hole is troublesome if you encounter roots. Also, the soil would likely need conditioning before you could grow a garden or crops on it. The trees might be pretty but plan ahead as to what you actually want to do on your property and if those trees are something you want or not. A bare spot means you could plant desirable trees in the exact locations you want them but most trees take many years to mature. And thinking of security, a forest would allow anyone to get close to you without worry of being seen.

Water is Crucial

Water is certainly an issue you want to cover for any spot. Is there any surface water on the property or very close by? If you plan on no or few improvements to the land then surface water would be almost a necessity. Is it easy to drill a well in the area? Many counties have a list of all wells online and often give information about those wells, like depth, static water level, and even how much water the well produces. All this is very valuable information that you can access online before buying any property. You can also stop and talk to any permanent residents in the area. Ask them about wells, ask about snow in winters, ask about flooding issues, or any other concerns you might see with the local area.

And about possible neighbors. In many locations outsiders are looked at with distaste and distrust. Every area is different. But often it might take time to establish a good rapport with your new neighbors. Neighbors can make or break any location. Bad neighbors can make an otherwise perfect spot almost unlivable. Good neighbors can change a relatively poor spot into an ideal location. Before investing your life savings after you think you found a perfect spot, I would invest some time to meet with your prospective neighbors.

Speaking of neighbors before buying look on the county’s website and see who or what owns all the surrounding land to your spot. This is usually a very simple online task and could be important to whether you want to buy that property or not.

Picking a BOL for possible future residence makes the decision on a spot more difficult with more requirements than just getting a BOL spot. And even if all you initially want is a simple BOL or camping spot, most people will want to make at least some improvements. This might be as simple as digging and building an outhouse for when you camp there, or it could involve much more.

Grid Power?

If you ever plan to build at your BOL then you would want to check if electric power is available. If the closest electric line is two miles away, then it just would not be economical to run the electric lines to your property. Of course you can go off-grid but that comes with its own set of issues.

Some states and localities will not allow a permanent residence to be off-grid. Check now if that is your plan so you know the facts for your location before you buy. If off-grid is accepted, then know that it is usually expensive and often requires a change in lifestyle. For instance if you are off-grid, then you probably won’t be  be able to have air conditioning. It just requires too much power for most systems. Again, everything has a cost attached to it and air conditioning while off-grid has a huge cost.


Even if you plan on few improvements you can do a few things at small costs that would make your spot handier for you to use. Maybe have a CONEX shipping container dropped on site. A twenty-foot container can often be purchased and delivered for a couple of thousand dollars though prices vary widely depending on the location. A shipping container can provide a relatively safe, secure, and weather-proof spot to store supplies at your new BOL without waiting for construction.

Property taxes are something every owner has to pay. And like many things property taxes can vary a huge amount from one state to the next and even between adjoining counties. Again, check in advance before buying, especially if you plan on making improvements or possibly moving there permanently at some point.

County building codes vary widely and some checking should be done before any purchase to see if the local codes are compatible with your future plans. The time to check that is before you buy.

Many improvements can be made with little cost if you do them yourself. Sometimes the project might require  renting a piece of equipment but even that is often not that expensive. (At least compared to hiring someone to do the work.)

So, after an exhausting search you find a spot to purchase. You check everything out thoroughly and finally you write the big check and become a landowner. Good for you!

Alternate Routes

Now when you start making trips to and from your new BOL, you should plan and change routes as many times as is feasible. This is because your new land is the spot you will run to if everything breaks down. Naturally, if everything does break down you could easily find one or more of the routes to your property blocked. In such case it would be a good thing to be familiar with alternate routes to get you safely to your getaway spot. The time to find those other routes is now, when everything is fine.

In closing, I believe that many people are better off sheltering in place. Take the money you would have spent on the BOL purchase and save it until you can permanently move to a rural spot where you are more comfortable living. For those that do decide to buy a BOL then do your homework before you spend all that money.


  1. If you do not live at your BOL, and SHTF, your assets may be appropriated by your neighbors or the community and you will most likely be considered a refugee as far as the sharing of resources that do exist. Old term “carpet bagger” comes to mind, or “homeless”, neither of which have a good feeling to them now and liable to get you dead if the situation has totally failed. I think that if you have a BOL and aren’t known as part of the community, you will do well in minor situations, but if things really fall apart it will do you no good unless you have something that would be valuable to the community, Dr, dentist, welder, etc, and the neighbors know of your skills before TSTF. Almost all bug out situations make the assumption that some society with property rights and rule of law exists, if it doesn’t, your BOL is just someone’s windfall gain. The idea that you will be able to fight off your neighbors as well as raiders and at the same time raise your food, cut your firewood, etc, just doesn’t make sense. In New England, by the1630’s settlements weren’t that uncommon along the sea cost, 50 miles inland where I live, the town was settled in the 1770’s, after the French and Indian wars stopped the raiding from Canada. Town area was used for logging and summer pasture for many years, first meeting house was burned by Indians, but they retreated to a safer area for the winter. The area they spent the winters at is called a harbor to this day, not a place for boats but a place of safety. Town history list those captured and held for ransom in Canada and those killed by the Indians.

    1. @Duane,
      You brought up some great points. For those reasons and several others, my wife and I have all but abandoned any plans for a long-distance trek to our BOL after SHTF.

      After an absence of only several months, a visit to our BOL property revealed that someone had stolen almost four cords of split, stacked, seasoned, and covered firewood. If someone would do that in times of relative peace and prosperity, imagine what they would do if more dire circumstances exist. We now live full time at what is our primary home and retreat in a different state.

  2. Lots of spot on stuff. One item I found out long ago…I’ve had my cabin location for 26 years….that SOME people in your new locale will, for whatever reason, go out of their way to make your life difficult. This is hard to predict. The exceptions are worth while cultivating as friends, but there is a possibility there will be slimmer pickings then you imagine when your property is at it’s “shiny new penny” stage. Good luck and God bless…

  3. Also remember if it’s not your land. Be very careful. You Will get shot if it is a shtf situation and you are trespassing , think before you head for the hills. Even walking to a bugout location across someones property to get to your location may not end well.

    1. Reminds me of a chapter in Patriots, when Doug wandered into the perimeter. He was fortunate to have stumbled into the good guys. In another world, trespassing onto a retreat with similar security could easily have ended with a bullet to the head and a shallow grave, good intentions or not.

  4. To get some good ideas on setting up a homestead and also deciding what you are aiming for you might want to read Jackie Clay s book,” Starting Over”. She has lots of experience and very helpful ideas. It’s a good idea to write down your primary goals in order to simplify your search.

  5. Lots of good points to consider in locating to a place of safety in uncertain times . Because of our age and financial status we decided to move within the redoubt area, but to a much more desirable location. We took many things into consideration, water, grow season, population, weather, local attitudes on many things, etc. We generally have been happy with our choice.
    Unfortunately, over a short time the state government has gone “nuts” over firearm control. They are trampling all over my constitutional rights to protect myself and family. I am not sure how I could have foreseen this happening. At this point we really do not want to move again.
    The state of Liberty may be the answer but I do not see that happening any time soon.

  6. The resistance to outsiders which the author mentions is part of the human condition. Tribal attitudes can be very strong across society.

    I knew a professional who moved to a state on the Eastern Seaboard because his daughter had moved there due to her job. He returned after a few years, saying that unless “your granddaddy is buried there you are an outsider.” I will admit that his comment may have been simply an excuse for failure, but that is what he said.

    Even in small towns across America, there is often a standoffish attitude when strangers move there. Call it a tribal attitude.

    A receptionist at my office several years ago was from England. She mentioned that Englishmen were probably better off not buying a second home in North Wales. She said that things happened to Englishmen’s property. Accurate? I don’t know, but that was what she said.

    Look at how many times here on Survivalblog that comments are posted concerning Californians who have moved/are moving into their towns/states. Again, this is more evidence of tribal attitudes, although it is often expressed as being resistance to Californians’ liberal politics. There is complete disregard for the fact that all Californians did not vote for Hillary Clinton and the loony Left.

    Although there are obvious exceptions, the general rule is that only in areas with a high influx of outsiders, an influx that has shifted the population balance, does not being a native become irrelevant. Most of Southern California was that way in the ’60s and ’70s. I expect that most of Florida is that way today.

    About trying to create a garden in a forest, I have no personal experience with that. I have heard, however, that pioneers who were posed with the problem of farming in the midst of a forest composed of massive hardwood trees would girdle the trees with axes or saws. This process would kill the trees and let the sunlight in. The results would not remove the roots, however, and, as a result, would be much less than ideal. Yet, the resulting garden area just might be the equivalent of what others have proposed in articles about “guerilla gardening” after SHTF.

  7. Couple of comments–

    Keep in mind that there are still dry counties in the US! And by dry, I mean there are counties that are bone dry: no sale, possession, consumption, transportation, or production of alcohol.

    Read the local newspaper online, or subscribe to receive a paper, from the community (often the county) nearest your BOL or potential new residence before you commit. You can learn a lot from the local paper. Some of what you learn may influence your decision.

    Check county / town demographics especially % of owner-occupied houses, high school graduates, in labor force, etc. All of these point to the stability the county. Check adjacent counties as well. If you choose a stable county, but the one across the line is unstable… .

  8. We originally were looking at property near the Allegheny National Forest. Very few people unless it is deer season. I had two major concerns. Distance and security. Having lived in an area where the power lines ended and people had cabins, campers and cottages we knew that there was a good possibility that it would be broken into. We went to one friend’s camp in the area and people in other camps had built chain link enclosures to store their fire wood. We ultimately chose a home on a state maintained road that see very few cars a day. The home can be seen by 3 neighbor’s. I would have liked living in the woods however when thinking about survival food production trumps a nice view. Our 8 acres was more set up for farming. Each year we make it better, thus increasing our chances of survival.

    In 2 short weeks we will be making the move to live at our BOL permanently. This will allow us to put an even bigger investment of time and effort into our BOL.

    Something else that people who are looking at buying property should be looking at are what are called “comprehensive plans”. These are the long term development plans for a community. Where is future retail or trailer parks allowed to be built? Is the property you are looking at in an agricultural security zone where the smell of animal manure isn’t something that neighbor’s can complain about.

    1. I live in the ANF, if anything ever happened thousands would use these camps for refuge. Bringing what maybe a months worth of food. Then what? We are looking to move, the area and their “small town” dislike for outsiders is strong here. Even after 20 years no one talks to us its weird…

      1. Mike,

        I agree everyone from Around Pittsburgh that owns a camp would head up to them. You are being generous thinking they would bring a months worth of food. Having talked to several county “officials” roads would be block, at least that is what I was told right before Y2K.

  9. We moved to our BOL almost two years ago and it is a great life here. I was surprised when my wife was on board to move to this remote location.

  10. We moved to the (BOL) rural south of town however in retrospect we should have paid more attention to the surrounding area rather than the immediate property. There are neighborhood risks in the immediate area that we will have to respond to should our situation as a country decline. If I had it to do over, I would get as far off the beaten path as possible. Can’t overstate how important it is to “check out” the neighbors… Affordable areas may attract an unanticipated risk. Due diligence is essential. Can’t know everything, but know all you can.

  11. The main question for whether to shelter in place or not, to me, is utilities, especially sanitation. If you have your own well and septic system, you have control of it. If you have to depend on government keeping the water and sewer running, and keeping sewage from backing up in your house, I’d get a BOL. Just sayin’. Tractorguy

  12. I just shake my head each time I read BOL articles. Here’s the hard truth… if you do not already live in the location you would choose to “bug out” to, you are screwed. If anyone thinks they can just roll into some location and set up a sustainable lifestyle, I have a bridge to sell. Its a fantasy, and it has spawned all sorts of entertaining discussion not to mention sales of all sorts of “bug out” gear that likely will never be used by the buyer, but by someone else eventually. Good luck!

  13. Well said, Les. God blessed me with where I live. My family has lived here since the late 1800’s. I got into prepping about 15 years ago. I have lived 55 miles from my job for the 36 years that I worked. That meant an hour each way. The drive allowed me time to fully wake up before work began and an hour to detox from work once I was off. Many people have asked me how I made the long drive all those years. I started out doing it from the beginning and them just kept on doing it. Carpooling helped in the beginning, drove solo the last 5. It takes decades to build a close bond with neighbors to where they trust you implicitly. Otherwise, you are just an outsider. So, put yourself in your new neighbor’s place and consider what they think.

  14. When I married, I moved to a ag community an hour from the nearest Wal-Mart in any direction. My husband is a 4th generation farmer but that is ALL he did. Farm. Once I moved in, we started going to church and making the effort to make personal connections; he has more friends now than when he was growing up and this community has welcomed me with open arms.

    Our home is nearly 10 miles from the state highway, surrounded by wheat fields and on a good, but sparsely traveled dirt road. We have a 3 acre yard that I am trying to make into a producing orchard/garden but I have killed more than I have grown.

    We live in a climate that is brutally hot in the Summer, bitter cold in the Winter and about 2 weeks of “nice” weather in the Spring and Fall. We are installing better windows & doors for increased insulation against the temps.

    I am so thankful that God brought me here. My previous home is not a good place to be when the SHTF.

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