Brief Introduction to Survival Retreats
By Rick R
My introduction to the term “survival retreat” came in book 3 of the Jerry Ahern’s cold war era fictional book series The Survivalist. As a teenager in the early 1980s, it was an exciting idea and concept to me, and a very far cry from images that would come to mind for a “bunker” or “fallout shelter.” Mr. Ahern’s idea was a far more sophisticated place of refuge, hidden and defendable, with sustainable off-grid capacities, more than I had ever considered prior to that. After the coming and non-eventful going of Y2K, followed by 911, and then Katrina, we have seen some significant changes in the survivalist movement and community, and I think some changes in the image of what a “survival retreat” now is, and should be. I still say though, I find myself always reaching for Mr. Ahern’s original vision.
Let us start with the term on its face looking to Wikipedia, the unofficial source for popular consensus (not scientific nor official proof). What you should notice is that a “retreat” is something you retreat to, rather than occupy full-time. Another similar term is “bug out location,” but I suggest this brings to mind less infrastructure (improvements and supplies) and really just references a location. There are also important related military terms such as rally point, or fall back position, which we will get to in later articles.
While “survival retreat” and “secure home” are two terms often used interchangeably for anyone who considers their primary home to also be their “retreat”, I beg to differ. These terms are not interchangeable, in fact they are mutually exclusive. If you plan to make your stand on your homestead, then to you don’t have to “retreat” to it. I don’t know if he coined the term, “secure home”, but I believe it is safe to say Joel Skousen wrote the treatise on the subject. This large, pricey, but information packed book focuses on all you can do and should consider in making your home more secure, and more survivable in the face of threats, natural and man made. It is not as simple and intuitive as you might initially think, especially if you don’t have construction, architectural, tradesman, and military experience. You are likely to learn something reading his book, or at least his website. While I believe that surviving an extended and severe crisis in an urban area would be very difficult, there are certainly things you can do to survival all but the most major catastrophe. I say this from the perspective of attempting to have both a secure home and survival retreat myself.
Thus I believe a “survival retreat” is something away from your homestead which includes improvements, supplies, and certain off-grid capacities intended for survival. I think Ragnar Benson is a leading non-fiction authority on the concept with his two books, Survival Retreat and The Modern Survival Retreat, but several others have touched on the concept. Mr. Benson does cover survival in both rural and urban areas, calling upon his experiences in Africa. Some goods stories and advise, consider buying at least his first book on the topic.
My personal concept once again is something rural, and largely hidden. This is something beyond a mere bunker or shelter (unlivable and usually without utilities, even toilet, made for only hours of stay), cabin or cottage (often not designed for year round living), or a secondary rural home or farmette, in that it is a place you and family and friends can occupy, and defend, for an extended period of time (months) if necessary. You can certainly call upon many of the concepts in Mr. Skousen’s book to help accomplish this as well.
Before Kurt Saxon coined the term “Survivalist”, there were those who called themselves Retreaters. As noted in the Wiki article above, Retreat Survivalism has basically become a subset of Survivalism, Survivalists who also have a retreat to go to. While the term retreating may at first seem less than macho, or even sound cowardly, remember that in a survival situation, avoiding an unnecessary fight is really a fight won if you were one who had more to lose (such as a stockpiled survival retreat).
In my opinion, a survival retreat allows you to have the best of both worlds, living conventionally in the here and now, while also being able to face TEOTWAWKI (The End of the World as We Know It). More than half the world’s population now lives in urban areas. This is where the jobs tend to be, along with other desirable attributes. My rule of thumb has always been to try to have a survival retreat within 100 miles if you can, in case you would ever have to walk to it. In some areas of urban sprawl that may be impossible. Thus 300 miles, nearing the limits of an average tank of gasoline, is the secondary rule. Yes, having a survival retreat is an expense many can not afford, alone at least, but there are ways to accomplish it on a budget, and to use the retreat recreationally to help justify the investment, which came be made as a family or group.