The Zombie Hordes Distance From Cities


While determining a location for your survival retreat, bug-out-location, or simply a safer place to live, you should consider its distance from a dense population area or city.

In the event of a SHTF disaster scenario there may be some number of zombie hordes who will attempt to escape their city when the infrastructure has collapsed, and food, water, and fuel becomes scarce and hard to find.


How Far Will The Roving Zombie Hordes Get?

In all probability, by the time the majority of the sheeple realize that they’re up $hit’s creek without a paddle, it will already be too late to realistically and safely get out. That’s assuming that they had somewhere to go… Nearly everyone has no place to go, so they won’t. At least that’s until they get desperate for water and food, at which time many will already be in a weakened physical and mental state which will greatly hinder their ability to be effective about it.

That aside,

For those who immediately bug out, or for others who manage to overcome other obstacles, most will use their vehicle. Let’s figure out how far they might get…

The average fuel economy (miles per gallon) of a vehicle varies of course, depending on factors including the vehicle itself, it’s engine, whether we’re talking city or highway mileage, etc. In the U.S., the government’s current fuel economy standards for new passenger vehicles is 27.5 mpg and 23.5 mpg for light trucks (GVWR less than 8,500 lbs).

However not everyone has a newer car with that fuel economy. A number of years ago a study was performed that determined 60 percent of vehicles in the U.S. were older than seven years. 10 years ago the fuel economy standards were 27.5 and 20.7 mpg.

For the sake of determining the average fuel economy of all vehicles on the road today, factoring in highway and city mileage, my instinct tells me it may be somewhere near 20 miles per gallon, maybe slightly less. Lets use 20 mpg for this example.

The fuel tank capacity of passenger vehicles, SUV’s, and trucks range in size from 10-13 gallons for compacts, 15-18 gallons for mid-size, 18-20 for full-size, and as high as 30 gallons for large vehicles and trucks. I believe that the average fuel tank capacity of all vehicles on the road today is probably about 18 gallons.

The average maximum range of all vehicles on the road at any given moment based on a full tank of gas is probably near 360 miles (20 mpg x 18 gallons).

The thing is, not everyone has a full tank of gas at all times, and in fact, most do not. Many people don’t add fuel until their fuel tank is fairly low. My suspicion is that most people on average have half a tank or less of fuel in their vehicle at any one time. This changes the average range to be closer to 150 miles.


When the hordes evacuate the cities, their range on average could potentially be 150 miles.

However there will be obstacles for a SHTF zombie evacuation, and many won’t even get close to 150 miles, mostly because it will be too late. These obstacles will include…

They have nowhere to go. No plan. No idea where to procure what they need to survive. Therefore many or most will stay put and suffer the consequences.

Major roads may become clogged with vehicles. Some will run out of fuel and make it even worse for the others.

Once the collapse and SHTF is well under way, gangs and other ‘bad’ groups will attempt to set up road blocks to ambush and loot the zombies of their supplies.


If you must bug-out…

Leave early! …before the others realize the trouble they’re in.

Pre-plan your escape route, and ideally have several optional routes pre-planned. Know your destination ahead of time!

Keep your fuel tank full. Make it a habit.

Have extra fuel in gas cans which you can put in the trunk to extend your range for the trip. I would only add these upon embarking on the trip – not for normal day-to-day driving due to safety issues. Use fuel additives to extend its shelf life.

Consider traveling by way of secondary (or lesser) roads, away from the main arteries and routes most traveled.

Have maps in your vehicle, and a compass.

Keep a 72-hour kit in your vehicle with enough food, water and supplies to manage for 3 days. Adjust accordingly to suit your needs.

Here is a map that I had put together awhile ago of the northwest USA which indicates the areas (circles) surrounding cities with a population of more than 100,000 people.

300-mile diameter rings (150-mile radius).

Keep in mind that this does not take into account highway locations (or lack thereof) or geographical impediments of travel, which would change the probabilities and direction of exodus of zombie hordes.



  1. Ken I agree with the half tank range for the average person, however depending on how the event unfolds I would assume that many unprepared people would use some of that half tank, looking for more gas, food, etc at nearby shopping centers if they were open. If snow plowing stopped, police, fire & rescue or hospitals “stopped” people would be lucky to not get caught behind accidents that nobody came to clean up. sitting in trafic not knowing why it wasn’t moving and burning gas.

    On foot 20 miles a day is pretty good for hikers , if you don’t have food, water or equipment I would think that it would be much less. You can live three days without water (not hiking) I think the majority of the horde would be very weak or worse at 60 miles.

    just my 2 cents..

    1. Your thoughts are logical. My thinking when doing the article was more focused towards those using a vehicle, which itself may result in less ‘average’ distance than I mentioned due to other additional circumstances as you mentioned (running around town first, etc., before some of them actually deciding to attempt a bug-out).

      On foot, I definitely agree that for most, it will be a fairly short distance. Most people cannot walk 20 miles in a day because they aren’t physically prepared (and probably won’t bring with them the correct gear, etc., to make it very far). But your distance of 60 miles sounds reasonable as a typical limit for many people on foot…

      Thanks for the comment.

      1. I think that both of you would be unpleasantly surprised. Being a younger individual, mid 20s, and having done backpacking with youth groups and other individuals in their late teens and early twenties I have always been amazed out how much farther and faster a young man can go simply because they are “young” compared to prepared seasoned hikers in short time periods of time. When I was 17 a couple of friends and myself did over 50 miles in 3 days with tennis shoes and school backpacks along the Rogue River in Oregon, and that was stopping every day to go cliff jumping too. All the young men and boys in this country will be able to go farther and do more than sometimes we care to admit. I would still say 150 miles at least. Just some thoughts…

        1. That makes sense, and is another data point to consider (the variances depending on age group). Thanks for the comment.

        2. Maybe…
          But consider this:
          Those young men may be able to travel farther than us average folk, but, they also require a lot more in the way of calories and water to do all that traveling. If those calories and water are not available, they won’t be able to travel any farther than I can.

        3. With little caloric intake they can perform at a higher rate for longer periods of time than most. I don’t have a study to point to other than experience. It is true that after multiple Days of low input anyone will lose energy and abilities to function, but there is varying degrees of this. I have seen it. Wanted to make sure youth was taken into consideration because truly it is an underrated attribute when talking about preparedness and SHTF scenarios.

        4. …and that’s why they’re chosen/targeted to fight our wars. The prime of youth/strength is that age group, 18 through 20’s. That was awhile ago for me ;)

        5. Not sure when you grew up as a kid but I will assume it is some time ago. Today, lots of kids are so out of shape and overweight, they don’t exercise, don’t even have P.E. at school and sit in front of the computer and television all day long, never setting a foot outside. Those type of teenagers (the majority) are going to be nowhere near hiking what you describe.

        6. I agree that the younger portion of or population (including females) would be physically able to do more. However, the majority, not all (no hate mail, lol) are self-centered and will wait for the “lights to come back on”. By the time they realize it is not going to happen they would have a difficult time getting out of the city. I suspect that those that are prepared even if not as strong will be out of reach of these zombies. Just a thought.

    2. I do agree of your estimate of 60 miles for people like you and me. I fear the evil people who’s range is unlimited for the reason they will kill, loot and steal their way around. When they need a place to stay, they will take someones home and eat all their food and repeat.

  2. Great info. I suspect that most people won’t leave right away and will either burn gas around town or run themselves down waiting for the government to help. By the time they decide they have to get out of Dodge, the roads will be clogged with vehicles and they will be killing each other in fits of road rage. A 20 year old can walk a long ways if he is in shape, but after 3 or 4 days with little food and water he will not be going far.
    One thing I noticed about most of the country is the 150 mile circles over lap a lot. There is not many places outside the middle of the country that falls outside all of the circles. This just goes to show that most everyone in the country will fall in a danger zone and should be prepared. Either that or we all move to the Midwest and make that one giant city from Canada to Mexico, which would kind of defeat the purpose.

  3. Don’t plan on going any where after a few hours during a declared crisis. During the WTC attack on 9/11 the govt closed all of the bridges and tunnels out of NYC to vehicluar traffic. IIRC the subways were shut down too. The only way out of NYC was to walk or take a ferry off of the island. One should assume other metro areas will be shut down during a crisis to prevent zombie hoards from going out into the suburbs and causing havoc.
    IE. NYC has 8m residents imagine the problems if 400k got out into northern NJ looking for food and shelter. After a few days violence would take over as the refugees become hungry and desperate. If one is going to get out of a metro area, they have to do it within an hour of the begining of the crisis…. or else you will be trapped in the zone you are im….. and without preps you will mostly likely die as the situation worsens by the day.

  4. If you have to evac out,do so early.LE usually informs the public the evac routes out of an area.consider having bicycles as a potential back up vehicle if you run out if gas.another tip is to locate state and national parks and forests for potential areas to rest
    and wait out a Evac situation

  5. There are 70,686 square miles in a circle with a radius of 150 miles. So if you live in just one of those circles, say with a city of 400,000 at the center, then you only need to worry about 6 people reaching any 1 square mile, at worst, assuming the 400,000 people spread out equally over the 70,686 square miles. One square mile equals 640 acres so that is 6 people per 640 acres or 1 person per 107 acres. Of course they would not spread out equally. If you were only 10 miles out you would have more to worry about than if you were 100 miles out.

    One thing is certain, and that is it is better to live out of a city than in one, and the further out the better. But even out in the countryside, there are too many people who are not prepared, who don’t grow any of their own food, don’t save seeds, don’t keep cattle or other livestock, and who don’t have easy access to water if the lose electricity.

    1. Satori,
      With that knowlege, it appears a good portion of the country has a fair chance pf out-distancing the zombie hordes. Sadly, I’m sandwiched between 2 of those counties!

  6. THIS:

    ” But even out in the countryside, there are too many people who are not prepared, who don’t grow any of their own food, don’t save seeds, don’t keep cattle or other livestock, and who don’t have easy access to water if the lose electricity.”

    I live way out in the “country” in the mountains and I have neighbors who are not prepared for anything. Around here most of them are retired as well living off of pensions. Two of my neighbors are moving because they’re getting old and can’t handle living here any longer. One neighbor finally bought a shotgun last year after years of my nagging them. Their reasoning was they needed a shotgun to protect their pets from coyote.

    I know people who live in the nearest town (pop. 400) who live off of welfare and food stamps and medicaid/medicare and have no other income.

    There are also a number of meth addicts here in the middle of nowhere so we have our “pre-made” zombies. They will turn into predators when something happens and they can’t get EBT and whatever entitlements.

    We have a lot of cattle in my county but ranchers (and farmers) will need hands to help protect their livestock and fields and a lot of us will need to be fed so hopefully we can all work together.

    Being in the middle of nowhere is the best case scenario but it is not by any means without it’s risks and concerns.


  7. Hi,

    Can such a map be obtained with a different radii, say 60 miles? If so how and where. Thanks.

    1. “If so how and where”

      I suppose since I’m the one who made the map, the how and where would be related to me building another map…

      I have had several requests for variances of this map, and I may make a project of building one with layers with options. That’s a big project, but I may do it one day (days)…

  8. As to gas and driving,as a ex police and fireman, I feel many of the looters,zombies,And crooks will saturate their HOOD area they know. IF TSHTF I feel they will drive and roam their favorite areas looking for foods anything they can get and use up allot of their resources . That means they drive around their area looting and go back to their Nest and eat till they get hungry again . Most of your firefighters have guns and go hunting fishing and have knives and such and if the police can’t help fireman will do it themselves. Most bad people will run out of gas with 30 miles are less cause most never get out of their areas and would not know other places as well as they do around their homes so most would die close to their safe place Just some food for thought.

    1. I tend to agree with you in the context of crooks/gangs staying closer to home especially in the cities (until it is their demise). I wrote this article not too long ago…

      Gangs Will Rule The Cities

    2. MARKWW,
      Sounds like a “I Am Legend” scenario thst is quite plausible! The more vulnerable will be the first to succumb to the urban zombie hordes.
      Btw thank you for being a first responder!

  9. I agree with your assessment. I came to similar conclusions too about a year ago when I wrote something just like your article.

    While the radius of the area of effect is quite worthwhile for planning, it’s more obvious what directions the horde would travel. Because of herd instinct, and the fact that so few alpha males still exist, a lot of people would follow the packs to their doom as they bugged out. Because of that, there are some more likely directions for the majority of the horde.

    Weak people without skills would likely band together with sociopaths and head in those directions. Traveling with the horde would be a absolutely foolish idea. Even if the horde you were in were benign, then a migrating group of folks, newly arriving in an area, would likely be blamed for any new thefts or violence.

    If a rural prepper, one thing folks may not have considered is the makeup of the zombie horde. The first ones are likely to have more money, and hence have more ease in leaving due to that factor alone. That will likely decline along economic lines with the poorest folks leaving the urban areas last. However, EMS first responder folks and other critical infrastructure might leave LAST. Why? Loyalty mostly. Some RN, firefighter, policeman, physician, etc might stay out of duty. I would expect the married ones or those who are parents not to do so, but they might.

    As such, the last of the people fleeing the urban zones might have very high skills that rural communities might need. I can easily imagine the scenario from “One Second After” in which new arrivals were interviewed about their skills, and so some were allowed to stay in rural communities.

    If you’re an urban prepper, knowing some critical infrastructure skills might certainly help you if forced to bug out to a rural location.

    1. HopefulNotHopeless,
      Very astute observation!
      Skills and knowledge will become extremely valuable commodities!
      As people may band together in rural communities to fend off the zombie hordes, what each person brings to the table will be of the utmost consideration.

  10. During the 1998–2002 Argentine great depression, it was the folks living out in the country that got robbed and killed. So don’t count on your retreat doing much good unless you have a large network in numbers! A retreat is just a target, and what are you going to do when your place is surrounded and the bad-guys threaten to burn you out?

  11. I am still not completely sold on the “horde” theory. I think with larger cities (those well above 100,000, maybe closer to half a million)will be the ones with the greatest amount of exodus. Statistically, the outer ring (white suburbs) will most likely be first to leave because those are the ones with the most resources at the time of the disaster/event. Those left in the more urban areas of the city are generally those most dependent upon its services and less likely to try and help themselves. Use of force on their part will occur when it dawns on them that no help is coming, or the help stops. The the rioting, looting, etc will intensify.

    Those that are left are the greatest danger. They become the “zombie horde” through survival Darwinism. However, I don’t think this group will be as large as we believe. I think we underestimate the apathy of the general public and our belief that it isn’t really happening and things have to get better. It’s called “normalcy bias”.

    I would also like to point out two disaster lessons that we need to take into account. First, Katrina. There was no reason anyone should have been left in that city. In may cases, those left behind with no means to evacuate, only had to go about 5 miles or less to be out of the surge. If you can’t manage to make it five miles over the course of two to three days, you either deserve to be left behind, or you planned on staying. They stayed put because no one came to help them. In the face of impending disaster they refused to exert what for most was a minimal amount of effort to get themselves to safety. That is what generations of entitlement, nanny state politics have created. And over time, it will only shrink the prospective horde even more. These sheeple will sit their and die waiting for help to come.

    Second is Hurricane Sandy. Even after the harsh lessons of Katrina, people still died. Why? Because despite all common sense they wanted to stick around and secure their material possessions. Now a lot of this is due to people knowing the disaster is short term and they are hoping they could ride it out. But given the acutely dangerous nature of it, even short term, they should have left but they didn’t. That brings me to my point. Not knowing how long the crisis will last, and with government telling them not to panic, I think a lot of people with enough common sense to leave would otherwise stay.No one will want to believe this is anything other than temporary.

    Last, bugging out is not seen as a viable option for anyone other than preppers. Where would they go? If they are relatively safe inside whatever shelter thy have, why would they risk abandoning that basic human need and becoming a gypsy in an environment they know nothing about hoping to find food and water? The potential horde doesn’t have a fraction of the urban survival skills of the average homeless person.

    I am not advocating the horde won’t happen. There will be some exodus and there will be roving gangs of bandits. Going hundreds of miles from civilization will certainly help you. However, if a smaller city is nearby, you can easily trade manpower for distance to ensure safety. A cohesive group of preppers, with enough land and resources can easily protect themselves from the horde. The horde only really has one shot at anything. If they lose, they die. Strong leadership, cohesiveness and understanding among individuals working together for mutual survival can withstand the horde any day. They won’t have leaders, or resources for a protracted siege. They are looking to take what they need quickly and move along to the next meal.

  12. Are we forgetting the greatest danger. Those on two wheels. These folk will have an almost unlimited range due to the fact that they can take gas from cars stuck on highways or just steal it from anyone found on the road. These people will not be nice and will live off of anyone who is unlucky enough to cross their path. They will likely follow roads and will probably, systematically work their way outward. This is what I would do. Motorcycles can go almost anywhere and will not be constricted by vehicle bound highways. They will travel in packs and if smart will have scout bikes out looking for the next likely target. Wadda u think!!

    1. Motorcycle gangs, dirt bikes would be a serious threat. I am not talking about Harley riders either.

    2. Tommy Gunn,
      With all due respect, are you referring to a “Mad Max” scenario?
      I am not being sarcastic or facetious. This is being discussed as we speak.
      This is not an unreasonable possibility!

  13. The concept of circles is misleading. While I agree that 60 mi is more realistic one must remember the inverse square law remains valid. What this mean is that is folks spread out their density decreases. There will be diminished numbers with distance due to health, water, gas and at each cross roads some will be tempted to depart. The circle also suggests city folks who leave will all go in one direction, not likely…again the inverse square law remains.

    Marc BSME

    1. I tend to agree Marc but for planning reasons most of us prefer to err on the worst situation. Only takes a few armed gang members to ruin your day.

  14. Do you expect ‘standard’ vehicles to be operational in a SHTF scenario?

  15. Thank you Ken for this very thought-provoking post! I read it to my husband. We are starting to prep on a very small scale, and are looking to move to a better location where we can then prep more effectively. Your distance question is an extremely valid one, given how most of the country still lives east of the Mississippi.
    The best analogy I can come up with is to watch the Tom Cruise version of “War of the Worlds”. That is ABSOLUTELY a SHTF scenario, albeit unlikely. It illustrates perfectly what we’ve been discussing here: Cruise’s character needs to get out of NYC, and get to Boston (NOT the best choice admittedly in a SHTF scensrio) to reach his ex-wife. What he encounters en route (sans alien attacks) is what we can reasonably expect to happen: abandoned vehicles along the highway, fighting over vehicles still running, and hordes of humanity fleeing on foot.
    My husband and I are looking to move somewhere natural geographic obstacles occur: mountains and rivers.
    I was originally liking at a “nice place to retire”. Now I’m looking for a nice place, safe when the SHTF.

  16. I was born and raised on a farm in north central Illinois. 60 years ago my father said we would be in trouble because we were 1/2 a tank of gas from Chicago.

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