Survival Retreat Population Density

Population density and survival retreat location are inversely proportional. That is, most survival retreat locations will tend to be located in low population density areas.

Survival Retreat

Whether you live there full time, as a 2nd ‘home’, or a bug out location, it’s a place outside and away from the main stream population.

It is a location for refuge, safety, privacy. It is a place with more freedoms compared with urban – suburban. Ideally equitable for homesteading and self-sufficient ideals. A place where you simply enjoy being – while feeling secure, safe, and at peace.

There are a variety of interpretations – definitions of a survival retreat and its purpose.

Some will lean towards the safety aspect of a remote survival retreat location while taking comfort in being away from mass population density in the event of a major disruption.

Others will prefer the idea of privacy or solitude, off the beaten path, or not being bothered by neighbors all stacked up on one another.

Still others (or a combination thereof) will focus on homesteading there and self-sufficiency aspects to the extent that it may be doable.

There are many various personal reasons for desiring a retreat location, and preppers (and others) today are exploring the possibility more and more.

Some people are already living year-round in a location that many would consider a “survival retreat”, while others may have a retreat location that is only used occasionally, while still others only dream about having their own place.


Population Density

While determining an ideal location for a survival retreat, a very big concern will be the surrounding population density, which will ideally be low, and some distance away from any large population center.

There are practical considerations while determining the remoteness of a survival retreat.

If you’re looking to live there full-time and you’re not retired, you will likely need to work for income. The more remote you are (the lesser the population density) perhaps the more difficult to find adequate paying work. Note though that you will likely ‘need’ much less money while living this lifestyle.

The further away, the more self-sufficient you must be, year-round. You need to keep in mind the products and services that you may need. Most of us cannot survive on our own without the help or services from others.

If someone lived 50 or 100 miles away from the nearest town (with some stores and services), that someone would have to be pretty self-sufficient and adept at making it on their own (practical skill sets and stocking up!).

On the other hand if that someone is living 5 miles outside a town of 3,000 people, and say 20 miles from a town of 15,000 people, they will have fairly convenient access to products and services they may need while still being somewhat isolated.

An ideal choice of a nearby town may be one of 5,000 or less. Just enough population to provide the basic services that you may need (you can’t do everything yourself – or at least most of us can’t!).

There are so many variables that it really comes down to doing a lot of research in the area, the area’s services, and how it all fits in with your own needs.

How far should this small town be from a larger population center with other services such as quality healthcare, hospitalization, and other professional services? Determining that ideal distance, is an interesting exercise in itself.

What about a worst case societal meltdown scenario? How far might the ‘reach’ be of roving ‘zombie hordes’, gangs, or mobs?

More: Safer Survival Distance From USA City Hordes

More: Safe Distance From U.S. Nuclear Power Plants?

More: The Perfect Bug Out Location Survival Retreat


Population Density Maps

For those looking for an ideal retreat location in the USA, I have come across several population density maps that may be useful, and if nothing else, interesting to look at.


USA population density map – 3D view

(click for full size)

USA population density per square mile

Urban population density of North America

Based upon satellite measurements of city lights, this image is a map of the urban population density of North America. Most major cities are in level areas along an ocean, bay, large lake, or navigable river. I find it interesting to look at the image until you visualize the light gray areas rising up higher in elevation, and then observe how most everyone lives at very low elevations (dark areas).

USA Population Density Elevation Map

‘Black Marble’ United States at Night

(View Full Size

USA Rand McNally Large Scale Road Atlas


  1. Though we are on the “left” coast of leftist CA, our home has many good features. 50 acres of woods and pasture.

    7 miles from a town of 4,000, on a dead end, rural road in a wooded area. Most of our neighbors are on the same page as we are.

    Close enough to the Ocean for moderate temperatures year around.

    No visitors can surprise us due to the terrain and location.

    We are blessed.

  2. If this year has taught us any lesson, it is to provide some safety from fires – that picture above is a good example of good visibility but it appears that there is a lot of vegetation near the house. There is more than one type of exposure beside people to keep in mind.

  3. Well everyone will have different needs for a survival retreat. Each group will need to consider if a location is right for them. I am in my 20s so establishing this will take several steps over several years.

    Location was critical for me because I wanted to be far away from population centers. So, the hardest part was finding a survival retreat area I could also live at. For me I ended up in the Western Dakotas, but it took me over two years to get here the right way. If you can’t pay your bills, then you can’t survive.

    I am just now starting to make plans and save for an actual retreat location. I know I am behind compared to others, but I am a young prepper. This is bad because I can’t just shift preexisting assets into a survival retreat. It is good because I have very little to lose and a chance to do it the right way.

  4. We are at our final self reliant home , no bug out site past this stop. When we finally realized that a large city ( 65,000) was a bad place to be, it took 2 years of planning, some driving trips , lots of research and making sure our financial ducks were in a row to make our move . We have been here 7 1/2 years and are pretty pleased with our choices . Our nearest relative is 220 miles away . The nearest town is 7 miles away , large city ( 27,000) is 40 miles away and we are on a dead end road .
    If there were societal problems of thievery, looting, stealing , etc. there would probably be a severe windstorm ( or ? ) that would knock down large trees across the road and greatly disrupt traffic in our area . It would take awhile for bad guys to get to us .
    To successfully remove yourself from a large city , it takes lots of planning , being in a debt free situation and having the ability to make sound decisions .

  5. How about Hawaii? I lived in Lahaina for a season:

    “The possible closure of Maui County’s ports does not bode well for residents still in need of supplies.

    By Tuesday afternoon, Costco had already sold out of generators, flashlights, lanterns, D-batteries, tarps and duct tape, officials said. Workers used forklifts to bring down pallets of goods throughout the day to keep up with demand.

    “We keep pallets of this stuff, but it’s all gone today,” General Manager Tony Facemire said – all 18 registers were opened, all 850 shopping carts were in use and all 810 parking stalls were occupied Tuesday morning. He said he brought in nearly 300 employees to assist… The wholesale store sold eight shipping containers of water — or roughly 7,700 cases — from Monday afternoon to Tuesday afternoon… He said the store could run out of water and would not be able to get another shipment until next week due to the harbor closures… ”
    – Mauinews

  6. Living where we need and want to be. 45 miles to anywhere….at least a mile to any neighbor. Lots of privacy, nearest “town” 45 miles with population under 10k. At least 2 hours in any direction for a city of any size, and lots of mountain between us and “them”. Had a good scare with DH’s health a year or so ago….but he is A-OK again, and so we go forward with our rural living. A true blessing. Hoping others can achieve the same.

  7. Wow is this article timely, Ken! I was just going through the website yesterday looking for answers to a lot of those questions about how far away we should be. Since we just finished our living quarters, we will not be moving. We will be starting the homestead with a garden and other preps. I am getting caught up on the things we have used but not restocked.

    One article I read from several years ago on your web page was very interesting, and it talked about the Zombie Hordes driving/walking/riding motorcycles around. One very interesting comment was about the fact that those folks who died during Katrina could have walked 5 miles to safety but chose not to. Very interesting concept! And, it gives me hope that not all the people from the nearest big city will be coming my way.

    We live in “the most heavily armed valley” in our state – as I was told by a neighbor when we moved in and started building. Sounds great – we are just on the outskirts from a big city but ar very rural. We have 5 miles of neighbors for those hordes to get through until they get to us.

    Maybe the next article can talk about what would happen with the jails and prisons. Is there a plan by those officials? Will they walk away leaving prisoners locked in their cells to die of dehydration, or will the last officer out open all the cells and then run?

  8. There is no place that is “safe”. There are very very unsafe places following a collapse but there will be no place that is safe. Being in a remote place with few or no people around you will not protect you.

    1. OneGuy,
      Good observation. Some places just seem to be a little safer than others . We pray for the best for everyone . If TPTB wants to find you ,they will.

  9. Loved the maps. In our county we have 1 person for every 2+ sq miles, nearest town with supplies and hospital is 70 mile with a population of 8,000. We are blessed with a good well for here but are careful. And we are known for our dark skies. And we are between the 2 circles on the zombie map. I think we will stay here.

  10. Live 10 miles from a town ofabout 2500or less and about 17 miles from Small city of about 60,000 and another town north of here of about 12,000,14 miles away, nice rural area, only bad thing is the interstate is only about 5 miles away from the house, between all of these areas,feel like it would still be a good area to bug in at if the SHTF, have good neighbors networking with them have been for sometime.Be prepared and ready.Keep your powder dry.

    1. This area is in southern Mississippi, and even though there are some gangsters and criminals here too, I don’t look for a whole lot of folks leaving the populated areas until they start to run out of food, water, or things to loot and pillage. We are ready for when they come our way unless someone else takes care of them first.Be prepared and ready. Keep your powder dry.

  11. I envy most of you. I can only afford my preps because of my sales job. Unfortunately I must live in a metro area to afford life. Bugging in right now is the only choice I have. Would love 50 acres in a town of 100….

    1. KM…….

      Look for a hungry realtor. No kidding. Start off with a 3 BR-2 BA, out buildings. There are a huge number available. Not all the same. Not all perfect. Tell them minimum 5 acres. Let them tell you about springs, creeks, rivers, wooded areas. DO NOT require it. (Sorry realtors…..I learned the hard way. The more you want, the more they make.) A local realtor found 34 places, 5 acres plus, under $2.5K/ac. Not all around here….but good enough to look at. As granny used to say…..Hummingbirds don’t look for the prettiest flowers.

  12. Dare I ask where on the Census Bureau site the maps are from? I could not fine same/similar maps or graphics. Thanks.

    1. Try population density map of the united states in the ‘search’ line at Yahoo. There’s a butt-load of maps of all kinds of info. There’s even SOME of them useful!!

  13. Ken, NICE VIEW!! Is that picture from your back porch or from your front porch? Wish I could move to a place like that!

  14. On a dead end road 7 miles from a town of 250; about 30 miles from a city of about 30,000. Most neighbors on the self-sufficient end of the spectrum, and a smattering of others who have systematically destroyed their brain cells. Was a prepper at heart even as a child when I played a version of wagon train in the back yard. Took a lifetime of planning, saving, and a couple false starts to get here.

    Tommyboy- just heard the news. Thought and prayers for your safety and others there.

    County’s population has dropped/remained static for quite a while. Good for those of us who want the quiet but tough on those who need the employment and services a growing area can provide. I like a book called When The Boomers Bail; gives an interesting perspective on the precarious nature of America’s current demographic tendencies. The subsequent “pigs in the snake” coming after us baby boomers may not be adequate to sustain current levels of services. Bit of a gloomy forecast.

  15. The ‘Where We Live’ map is disappointing. I kind of wish I didn’t see it. It looks like if I had to bug out, I would have around 600 or 700 miles traveling west to reach the tan areas where there is no red. I knew the east and Midwest had a higher population density than the western part of the US but I did not know that it extended so far west. WOW, maybe I should work on getting a pilots license or figure out how to install a rocket motor on my bicycle. Hehe

    1. INPrepper,

      I’m stuck in the same area with you. Got 2 ac in the ‘berbs with no HOA so I have some freedom to do what I want, but I’ll quickly be overrun in a worst case scenario. Too many people to have to deal with. I’m working on a 5 year plan now to find some land within 150 miles of our current residence (walkable or bikable if need be) and start a retreat that will be a permanent homestead once we sell this place in a 10 yr timeframe.

  16. A few years ago I was contemplating a similar topic. I perused the internet for a while finding some of the same maps shown here. I found the same 3D maps. Made my feet hurt just looking at it. Could not find any humor in walking across one of those. I also checked out the map indicating the population density per sq. mile. The only difference between then and now was the lighter area was previously just at the Mississippi River…..not covering half of Texas.

    After letting all the maps/charts/etc. sink in I checked out Google Earth. I decided to take a close look at places like Dallas/Ft. Worth, Atlanta, Seattle, and Chicago. (OBTW, forget looking at Chicago, L.A., anywhere around NYC.) Take a look. A close look. Now think about this: The results of the 2000 Census indicated that there are close to 97,850,854 single family residences in this country. That does include apartments and trailers. Each one of those has 3.3 reported occupants. That’s over 300,000,000 bipedal hominids. That is as of 2000. It is most probably a tad above that now.

    On Google Earth, peruse only the neighborhoods that are single family dwellings. How much uncultivated land do you see per household? A quarter acre? An eighth acre? A planter or two? Contemplate two to five percent of that 300 million plus has more than a few days of food/water. That’s around 270 million that will be hungry, thirsty, and desperate. And trolling neighborhoods. And visiting homes whether invited or not.

    OK. Do you have enough planning/fuel/food to make it to the green area on the population density map? For me and mine, both of us, it is about an hour to a dark green patch. And I wish I was already there.

    And Kens observation about most of the populace being located in lower elevations. True. They are called flat-landers. And none of them suckers ever heard about ‘Drink up-stream from the heard.’ The further water travels the more it picks up and takes with it.

    Back to the inquiries……What will be the advancement of the scumbags/zombies/gangs? Probably not far. I would guess 100 miles for the best prepared gang. Fuel, water and food are the keys for their progress. The more intelligent gang leaders will learn to identify situations quicker than most of their ‘followers’. Things like the smell of food cooking. A well kept garden. The sounds of chickens/roosters. Dogs barking. Cattle. Goats. Any animal that makes sounds. Locks on gates. Any indication that someone does not want scumbags on their property. And add in gunshots. The prime indicator that someone is protecting something. (Time to pick up a few thousand more rounds of subsonic .22 cal.)

    1. NMA,
      Do not bet on WHAT the “flatlanders” know and don’t know. Some will be savy and others will be like a box of rocks. Consider and prepare like: Those who are in the cities , May not have always lived there, but be there ,because of no jobs in the other remote areas. Some of those who lived much of life in higher elevations ARE now in the flatlands..
      Once people have been raised taking care of hogs, mules, cows and other creatures one gets careful of their drinking water…no matter ” flat lander” or not. Those in the higher elevations do not need to be concerned about me visiting there, for I can not breathe in higher elevations. Any who have not accustomed to high elevations will not fare so well going to them without extensive time in elevated areas.

      1. HotDamn, JS…..

        You have met my neighbors!!! They are in that box o’ rocks!!

        I have no problem with those that have tried. Those that could. Those that have done. I have absolutely no tolerance for those that have done nothing. Then complain that no one ‘helps them’. All the while being completely physically able to accomplish whatever it is they need ‘help’ with.

        I do believe that I can assume….knowing what that really means…..that you have tried, done, and accomplished more than the generic ‘flatlander’. (I really do know what a flatlander is. I went to school with a haywagon full of them.) I can tell you stories about Henrietta, Jessy Mae, Tootie, and Dumb Ass that would have you rolling on the floor. (That’s two Mules, a Jackass, and two Goats.) (Don’t ask about Tootie, you don’t want to know.)

        And….OBTW…….A ‘flatlander’, as my uncle would say……is someone that cain’t plow uphill. Think about that……mules…….plow….uphill. That’s three things that don’t fit together. At least with the equipment my uncle had.

        So, JS…..I’ll save ya some uphill water.

    2. NMA, et al;

      I know I’m late to the party but I want to ask if you think there are ways to work around the intelligence of a gang leader?

      If the smell of food cooking is a problem, would not a solar oven alleviate that? Noisy chickens/roosters? How about raising quail and rabbits instead? If a well kept garden might attract them, could we not grow indoors instead? Aquaponics can provide you with produce AND fish ( another food source that doesn’t make noise ). Instead of solar panels and/or a loud backup generator, how about a much quieter inverter generator; inside of a doghouse to boot? Are these suggestions not possible answers to the concerns you raised?

  17. Key West
    One road in
    Long way from the mainland
    Great community

  18. Too often when we think of the worst case scenario, we immediately think our security depends on total isolation as the answer. But, this could be a false sense of security. If there’s a serious illness or injury, the fuels gone, or needed supplies/equipment, food stuffs are empty, 40-75 miles could be a death sentence. What about several miles between neighbors? You need help, or a criminal breaks in, at a few miles, no one will know. Keep in mind a continuity of society, which depends upon some population density – say up to 50 people per square mile. We each can’t know everything, or have everything, so neighbors are important. It’s only our modern, industrial, technological world that has us brain washed into thinking we can survive as isolated individuals. It only seems that we can, but we live at the peak of a super advanced civilization – kind of like that population spike for NYC on the map. Strip away our grids for food, water, healthcare, power, energy, transportation, communication, currency, trade/globalization, security, modern jobs, centralized government, and its very third world. We’ ll need the help of a “tribe” to make it.

    If we do experience an end of the world as we know it event, I’m sure it will unfold like a western forest fire raging through poorly managed lands consuming all in its path, the good, the bad, and the ugly. The author James Howard Kunstler is fond of saying that society is a self organizing organism. So, when the fire has burned itself out, society will reorganize. You need some population density to organize, and people with unique skills to do so -well – with hopeful results.

    I guess my point here is to not think that severe isolation has to be part of your ideal plan. It may very well work against you.

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