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Should you have a “bugout retreat”?

The coronavirus pandemic is bringing a lot of people into the preparedness fold, and re-igniting the interest of those who’ve been at it a while (and perhaps slacked off out of boredom). Whichever group you happen to be in, you’ve probably been exposed to the idea of “bugging out”.


The concept of the bugout is simple: when things “go bad”, whatever you determine that to be, you gather a selection of supplies and tools and head for a retreat — either pre-arranged or improvised in a theoretically hospitable area — for an indeterminate period of time, perhaps permanently.

This is in contrast to evacuation, which is a temporary, short-term relocation due to an immediate and unavoidable danger that destroys or renders your home uninhabitable. An evacuation may be a proactive response to a known threat (such as a fast-moving wildfire headed in your direction), or a reactive response to one which has occurred (such as leaving because an earthquake has made your house dangerous to enter).

The idea of the bugout is a popular one in preparedness circles. In the last week I’ve seen some hastily-written prepping articles touting the “bugout bag” as the first thing a new prepper should make. Some (thankfully few in number) celebrate the notion of bugging-out to wilderness areas where one might subsist on hunting and gathering. Others recommend buying and stocking a “retreat” to also serve as a vacation home.

Vacation retreat?

The concept of the second home as a bugout retreat has been very popular in recent years. The idea is to buy a vacation home and visit it frequently. This allows for maintenance and rotation of the survival supplies kept there, but it also supposedly gets the neighbors used to seeing you. This, the proponents believe, will make you “one of the locals”, and in difficult times ensures that they’ll accept you as one of their own.

Being a rural dweller myself, I’ve never believed that to be true — any more than I believe locals would welcome people camping in their forests and poaching their deer. As it happens, my skepticism has been validated by the current coronavirus panic.

Maybe it isn’t such a good idea

Reports are coming in from far away places like Scotland, and chatter from the coastal communities here in my own state of Oregon. People who own vacation homes have been encouraged (or, in some cases, ordered) to leave and go back where they came from. 

The general feeling in these smaller municipalities is that rural areas — which are the most popular for retreat homes — have very few resources to take care of affected locals, let alone the tourists and  vacation home owners who visit for a few weeks out of the year. When something bad happens, they want those scarce resources to be spent on the people who live there and make the community what it is. 

When there isn’t enough to go around, rationing will happen, and people tend to want to see rations go to their friends and neighbors first.

Despite the predictions of retreat protagonists, the full-time residents of these areas most definitely do not consider part-time residents to be “their own kind”. In fact, the part-timers appear to be about as welcome as carpetbaggers in the postbellum South.

Whether you’re new to all of this or an old hand, don’t allow yourself to feel bad because you don’t have a bugout retreat. It’s really not a practical solution to a problem.

There’s a better way

There is an important lesson to be learned from this, and it’s one that few people in the preparedness world seem to take notice of: the best support system you’ll ever have is the one you make with your neighbors.

I know the image of the rugged individual is a popular one; it’s seared into our cultural DNA. After all, the  frontierspeople who conquered the Wild West didn’t rely on anyone else to help them through hard times.

Very true. And you can find their untended graves and abandoned homesteads all over the West. They often died young and their survivors left with little more than the clothes on their backs. 

Human beings are social animals. We’ve achieved our modern world by working together with other people, to build things we couldn’t build by ourselves. There’s a big difference between desiring solitude and rejecting cooperative association with others. The latter makes us weaker and exposes us to the ravages of the world.

Rather than spending time, money, and energy on a vacation/retreat home where you may not be welcome during a disaster, spend those resources on working with your neighbors. Help them out, cooperate in neighborhood projects, and steer them to the task of local preparedness. There’s nothing better than a friendly neighbor when your generator runs out of fuel, or you need someone to go to town and pick up your medicine.

Most of all, though, read all preparedness advice (even mine) with a critical eye. Things like bugging out  may sound macho as can be, but is it based in reality? Does it make sense? If it seems to run counter to what you know to be reality or human nature, perhaps it’s just someone’s fantasy. 

Prepare yourself, prepare your family, prepare your neighborhood, prepare your town. Do it in that order and you’ll have the support system you need, and everyone else needs, when the time comes.

And it’s never too late to start!

-=[ Grant ]=-

P.S.: I’ve been reluctant to post too much information during the ongoing panic, because I know everyone is already bombarded with information as it is. So, instead I’ll offer this: if you have a question about preparedness that you’d like my opinion on, send it to info@grantcunningham.com 

I’ll answer them in a weekly blog post, and of course I won’t reveal your name or location. Even if it seems to be a trivial or simplistic question, remember: we were all beginners at some point!

  • Posted by Grant Cunningham
  • On March 25, 2020