James Wesley Rawles: Homesteading, Relocation & Resilience

James Wesley Rawles is a former U.S. Army intelligence officer who now runs the popular prepping site SurvivalBlog.com. In today's podcast, Chris and Jim discuss the more practical aspects of prepping, including the frequently-asked topic of relocation (Where should I live?):

The key issue, given my perspective on preparedness, is population density. If people have the opportunity to move to a lightly populated region, I highly recommend that they do so. Fewer people mean fewer problems. And regardless of the nature of a disaster, whether it is manmade or natural, if you are in a lightly populated region, odds are you are going to have fewer problems. You are certainly not going to have any big riots out in the middle of the hinter boonies, like where I live. So I would put population density at the very top of my list.

Another key consideration for picking a piece of property would be the local economy. You want to have a diverse local economy that is predominantly agricultural. And you want to be in an area with plentiful water, and preferably in an area with predominantly hydroelectric power, because hydroelectric power is the most resilient. And as I described in my blog, I wrote an article entitled “Islands in the Darkness,” and I was talking about the contingency plans that many power utilities have for cutting themselves off of the national grid in the event that the national grids go down. There are actually three grids: the Western Grid, the Eastern Grid, and the Texas Grid. If one of those grids were to go down, a lot of utilities that are in power-exporting areas will be able to island it for themselves and their customers. For example, where I live, there are several major hydroelectric dams within 30 miles of me. And if the grids were to go down, within less than a minute they could reconstitute an island of power for all of the people in our power co-op, for example.

A region that is quite good for that was described in my novel Survivors. I set that in the area of Farmington, New Mexico, which is a natural-gas-producing area. And they, too, are a power exporter, because they not only have a large coal-fired plant in Northern Arizona, there is also in the Four Corners region a tremendous amount of natural gas that is produced. And they, too, export power.

So ideally, you want to be in a lightly populated area, an agricultural area, an area with plentiful water, preferably with shallow well depth – or even better, spring water, where you gravity-flow water to a house – and again, a power-exporting area. Those will be the safest places to be if everything falls apart. And if we have a major grid-down whammy, a multigenerational whammy, I cannot think of a better place to be than someplace like that. I certainly would not want to be on the East Coast. I certainly would not want to be in any of the major cities or near them. Nor would I want to be on a natural line of drift out of a major city.

I often have people ask me about the Central Valley of California, since it is so agricultural. But it is so close to major population centers, like the Los Angeles Basin and the San Francisco Bay area. I think the Central Valley is just going to get overrun. So even if you had a farm in the Central Valley, you might not be safe.

People really need to live at their retreats year-round and get into a self-sufficient lifestyle. You cannot just 'buy' survival. There is a learning curve to all of this. You can buy a wood cookstove, but that does not mean you know how to really cook with a wood cookstove or bake with it. There is a learning curve there; the same for gardening. It takes years really to develop soil, to build up your multi-year crops, your berries, for example. Asparagus beds take years to develop. Fruit and nut trees take years to grow to maturity.

You really have to be there. You have to learn the peculiarities of your local climate and your local frost-free days for growing. You have to learn which particular crops grow well in your climate zone. There is a learning curve to all of that. And unless you really live it, you cannot just expect to show up at your retreat at the eleventh hour and then start gardening the next day. It is probably not going to happen, at least not the way people hope it will.

In the country, the population density may be low, but all the neighbor kids wander all over the countryside with their 22s out shooting small game all the time. They know where every house is. And for that matter, looters can follow power lines to just about everywhere if they are going to follow roads. So unless you buy an insanely remote property, someone is going to know that it is there. So survival is all about friends that you can trust and neighbors that you can trust. You cannot do it on your own. And anyone who hopes to do it on their own, I think is foolish.

Community can be as close as just two or three neighbors, but it is still community. And you need those people that you can count on. And let me tell you, as a former military officer, I have done continuous operations where we have had to maintain security 24 hours a day -- and that was with a platoon-size unit. These were all young, fit people, and even we got worn out. To think that one family is going to maintain 24/7, 365 days a year, and 360-degree perimeter security for an extended period of time is ludicrous. It is just not going to happen. You are going to burn yourself out within a few days. You really need neighbors that you can count on. You need a neighborhood watch on steroids. 

Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with James Wesley Rawles (37m:39s):

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://peakprosperity.com/james-wesley-rawles-homesteading-relocation-resilience/

i just returned from a one week practice bug out from michigan to colorado. james is spot on and then some. we are not at all prepared for this future. knowledge of how to get the basics is key. my truck has a range of approx 400 miles. the first thought i encountered as i filled up(400 miles from home) was this is where i would be stuck, with a truck that had no more gas in it. so is this my shelter anymore? how much of this can i carry with me and to where?  remember i'm 60 yr old.
i've been reading alot of military books lately, and even the us fights war with a just in time supply from the air to soldiers on the ground who are outnumbered and pinned down.our own cushy thoughts and expectations are one of our worst enemies in survival. complacency kills …a retired solder once told me.

i highly recommend practice. a practice bug out, a practice weekend where you throw the main power switch in your house to off for a weekend…a week if you can. no electric, no gas, no travel outside…no credit card no internet, no cell phone…what you got you got. you can make up many kinds of scenarios, it's an eye opener. you will see what you depend on and what won't be available.it costs no money to do this. so no whinning.

i wish the military had a 6 week course for people like me who aren't dead yet and would like to survive…

my intjness(ha ha) and alot of practice has so far narrowed it down for myself, that the more i know, the more i have with me in my head, the more confidence i have, the better my odds.

i know from being in a burning hotel fire on the 9th floor that shit can happen…and to me. odds are that  interesting dialog that are totally worthless in a crisis. because i knew a head of time what to do , i was able to be the last one out of a burning hotel…and i am thankful to have no more knowledge of that experience than i do.

now i got to shed the 20 extra pounds that i consider a liability to my survival.

thanks for the interview and what you are doing james.







in drivers ed they taught to look in the rvm every 6 seconds…i always supposed that was in case we had to turn around.and we would know where we were going.
love your post …way better to say that than click the thumb

Thank you very much for your thoughts.
Someone famous said the the collapse happens from the periphery inwards. (CM) This collapse has been happening for at least half a century. The problem has been that the Centre of our civilization has not recognised  their own frontiers so that when they collapsed it was to a chorus of cheering.

Western Civilization reached its zenith in the 1950s.and has been collapsing inward like a rotting mushroom ever since. I was born and raised a pioneer, an invasive species, if you must. I was born in Africa.

The experience is branded into my psyche. It would take powerful hallucinogens to dislodge it.

Here are some of my lessons.

  • Prepare to become the Ik. You will have to make decisions such as "I have to sacrifice my parents for the sake of my children". How obvious the answer, how devastating the consequences. Forget any culture you were hoping to transmit to the next generation.
  • Our civilization is a precious thing. I was lucky, there was ground I could retreat to. In my desperation to get my family back into the bussom of our civilization I applied to dozens of countries.None were interested. I suspect that they were basking in schadenfreude. You must expect the same. Do not expect to be welcomed with open arms. You will have to be useful to the society that you go to. You will need some skill that everyone is highly motivated to want. Dentistry springs to mind.
  • All I wanted was a yacht so that I too could become a refugee, one of the many millions of desperate souls afloat. The momentum of this desire has carried me to the point that I am now, with my own yacht. And you are right, You have to live the life to absorb its nuances. Any thoughts I have on the merits of yachts will be highly suspect. (With a nod of recognition to the incredible powers of rationalization of the Left brain)
  • On water purification. In the dry season we sucked dilute animal urine out of the sand beds of the rivers, and were glad of it. Remember, You are of this planet. It is in you and you are in it. After the intestinal war has settled down, you become immune. Newbies are a laugh a minute.
Around this neck of the woods, Esperance Western Australia, I am considered a harmless eccentric needing tender care so that I do not come to harm. When we had a little fright of a coronal mass ejection about a moth ago my expressed concerns were held up as evidence of my eccentricity. The trick to controlling my Ego is humour.

(Love that spelling checker.)



I couldn't agree more with the idea that you need to live the life style.  That takes life to a different level in so many ways.  It takes it out of the prepping and survival mentality into a world of beauty and creativity.  We live the way we do because it is a more meaningful and satisfying way to live.  To be more connected to the living world that sustains us, to participate in the unfolding natural wonders that show themselves in a thousand small things.
I have been gardening now on and off for 25 years or so and I still feel like a complete novice.  With all our technological wonders, we are now so disconnected form the world around us at our own dis-ease and peril.  All the daily life skills that were taken for granted a generation ago (perhaps two now) that are now almost completely lost to us must be recovered at great effort.  To read the journals of farmer from a century ago dispels the myth that we are smarter now than then.

I am for putting down roots, come what may. I would not dream of bugging out to increase survival chances.  It seems to fly in the face of being part of a place, which is what our culture is so much in lack of.  Fragmented disaffected thinking.  Purely materialistic scientific thinking breaks the world into a million disconnected disembodied lifeless pieces.  It is a spiritual death.  We change locations like we change a piece of clothing.  We live in so many different places that we seem to live no place at all.  The same coffee shops, gas stations, stores and malls and the same lifeless amalgam of industrial food, products and culture.  I am in this place and this place is in me.  Culture is the result of the connection of people to a place and the expression of that relationship.  When we have no relationships we have no culture.

By all means weigh the rational reasons to move to some place or another, but find a place that feels like home, that calls to your heart.  Plant your trees and put down your roots.  We all must die at some point, but there are some things worse than death.  I would like to die in place with people that mean something to me.


I have lived in the country about 20 miles from town. While it can be very peaceful it can also be very lonely , even with family. This was over twenty years ago before internet and cell phones. Most people were either just getting by or drove long distances to work. With the cost of fuel getting higher all the time living to far out is going to be tough. You still will want access to doctors, dentists and supplies. 
I now live in a mid sized city with a 120 by 120 foot lot and small house. Sold the motor home, hot rod car and all the toys. Insulated my house, double sealed all AC and heater ducts, built my own solar hot water heater and put up a 2kw solar system. I went from using 1500 gallons of gas per year to under 150 gallons. My electric bill has been cut by two thirds. I hope to plant a garden this year and add more solar panels. I would prefer to be in a smaller town but will make the best of it wherever we are. I love taking the dogs for a bike ride on the weekends and talking to neighbors.

We've really struggled with this topic of relocation.  We live downtown in a small-medium sized town in southern New England, which still has some agricultural roots.  There are many plusses: good downtown community, water, neighbors, sustainable(ish) home, big garden, walkable, trains, family close by.  Minuses: on the I95 corridor, massive population all around, nuclear plants, storms/hurricanes, sea levels, generally unrealistic expectations in town government, etc.  If things go south really quickly, we're going to be in a world of hurt very quickly.  If we're already in the process of a catabolic collapse which will continue to play out over decades, then here's as good as anywhere else perhaps.  And I'd rather get skilled-up in a close knit community than go it alone somewhere.  I've always lived in towns or small cities and while I spend most of my time outdoors in nature I'm probably not going to do well without people around me.
We're thinking of moving up north, western Mass or southern VT., but that's a big lift: family implications, cost of moving, loss of community.  We're supposed to reevaluate our location and make a stay-or-go decision in the next few months.  Any advice would be gladly received.

This gets back to the question of "neighborhood watch".  Will it work better in the city (near farms) or in the countryside far from cities.  There was a person from Argentina who posted awhile back about how the country homes were ransacked while city neighbors helped protect each others property, while when one was working, for example.  Then again, one can buy property in a country that in not as dependent on technology and exports, for example certain areas of South America.

[quote=marky]We're thinking of moving up north, western Mass or southern VT., but that's a big lift: family implications, cost of moving, loss of community.  We're supposed to reevaluate our location and make a stay-or-go decision in the next few months.  Any advice would be gladly received.
Glad to.  After a few basics, the most important criteria, by far, is the community that surrounds you.
Those basics, for me, are:
30 or more inches of rain a year.  40+ is best.
Not living in or too near a very big city
Good soil in the region (this is the most negotiable of the lot, within limits)
I am highly blessed to live in an area where people are quite actively exploring what it means to rebuild culture, how to deepen relationships in meaningful ways, and placing priority on actually doing things in community.
I think everyone automatically knows in their gut if their current community is resilient and capable of dealing gracefully with large change, or not.  If not, I propose taking the time to go and visit other communities and see how those feel.
The process always takes more time than you might think, and even for us, when we were very actively in the process, it took about 3 years of renting in the region before we found the right 'hotspot' located a critical (as it turns out) 12 miles from where our research first landed us.
Of course, there are more people thinking, talking about, and living these new community lifestyles than when we first started back in 2003, so you may find that you can swim through the process at a faster pace.

As Chris mentioned, the region you are considering is fairly rich in his criteria, particularly community as there is a large extended community in that area that is considered 'alternative' in most places.  That community extends a bit farther, though, and there are advantages in some of the outlying areas, such as eastern NY.Real estate tends to be pricey in MA and VT, whereas places like Washington Co and Schoharie Co in eastern NY are quite reasonable, even cheap.  And the agricultural land is at least as good.  Water is about the same.
Another alternative is to locate somewhere near an Amish community, like those in PA, western NY or Ohio.  They are the true pros at sustainable living, although they aren't so interested in vegan or organic diets.  They tend to settle in places with low real estate prices and good agricultural land.  Once you learn your way around their communities, nearly everything necessary for a good close to the land life is available cheaper than you will find it elsewhere (if you can find it elsewhere) and frequently of better quality.  They are very resourceful. 

i live in the country and i would want to say to city folks…think texas chainsaw massacre if coming out here to ravage. not from me, but from some of the people i've met out here, i'd say they would put up a nasty resitance. people out here know to leave each other alone, yet i've seen them come together in a second if there is an emergency .they had the mess from the tornado cleaned up in about 2 days–not only were the trees cut up and hauled away, the stumps were also ground up and the dirt leveled.
the farmers tell stories of the golf course near me…they said everytime when the developer got a structure up for the clubhouse…someone burned it down.  this is modern day, no crisis stuff

remember if moving to the country…walk softly and keep your gun close by i never owned a firearm til i moved out here…it's just part of the culture. when in rome…


All of your plusses sound really positive.  Are you happy in your community?  Do you have lots of good supportive family/friends nearby, people you can count on in a pinch?  That is something you can't guarantee you'll be able to find or build again, and it takes time, though, of course, many people do find a way.
I know Chris did his research and I would carefully consider his formula.  I would also trust my instinct.
In your position, one question I would ask myself is whether I had the resources to ensure these same pros (as much as possible) where I was relocating to.  I wouldn't give up these good things just to get away from the other things you mentioned.  If my financial resources were such that I could be very choosy and also potentially buffer some of the unknowns if they turned out to be minuses, then yes, I would consider moving.  But if I were trading a set of known pros/cons for a similarly weighted set in an unfamiliar location, or if my financial resources were already limited, I'd likely stay put, continue benefiting from the known plusses, and find "in situ" ways to mitigate or prepare against the effects of the known minuses.
Not knowing anything about your situation, I'd also caution against leaving a stable, sustainable job to relocate.  The job market out here (southern VT and western MA) is pretty dry in many fields.  Do your research carefully regarding your plans for income after relocation, if that is a critical factor for you.
I live in the area you're considering moving to.  I relocated here ten years ago from a Boston suburb and have not had any major regrets.  I have lived both "way out in the country" and "right in town."  Feel free to PM me if you have specific questions about the area. 

"Not living in or too near a very big city…"This was a difficult one for me, in that I don't believe any of us have perfect crystal balls. In a "soft crash" or "long crash" scenario, there could be significant benefits to being near a population centre. But in a "hard, quick crash" scenario, one would want to be far from population centres – at least further than a tank of gas, as others have pointed out.
I've been looking for a community solution that would thrive in as many different crash scenarios as possible, including a "soft crash" or "slow crash." So I chose an island. In a "hard, quick crash," the ferries will stop running, and we'll have the equivalent of a tankful-of-gas distance for most people, and I think people with a tank full of gas in their boats are going to have other things on their mind.
Besides having a moat around you in the worst-case scenario, there are many other things to argue for island life. There is a greater sense of community and inter-dependence. People are more likely to trade with you than pay the ferry fare to go to a Mall*Wart or other "big box" store.
So far, so good. But we could use some help!

I have just finished reading "The Crash Course". I found the book compelling, interesting, disconcerting and exciting. It truly is information I think nobody should live without. To me it comes at a time where I have some crucial decision-making ahead of me. Over the past years I have been preparing to start farming. I have just listened to the podcast on "Homesteading, Relocation & Resilience".
In the near future I will have to decide whether I will buy a particular farm, or not. The farming I will do is grass-based animal production (beef, hogs, chicken, sheep, and eggs). In many ways the particular piece of land is very good. It is in a high rainfall area, it has good water sources, the soil is OK and has lots of room for improvement, one quarter of it is wooded, and it is ~1hr outside of the Ottawa in Canada. While this is an excellent location for direct-marketing of my future products, which (the location) in my opinion could well make the difference between success and failure from a business perspective, it might not be such a great location in light of what I've just heard on that podcast. However I think that economic success is very important from a resiliency standpoint.

I find this a very tough decision to make, as it could potentially have such wildly different implications.

I would appreciate any input.

Thank You!

Ottawa is hardly a "big city," but if the American Army couldn't find it in 1812, then roving bands of zombies probably won't find your farm, either.In a "slow, soft crash" scenario, coupled with global warming, civilization might last quite a while outside the capital of a newly-minted petro-state. In a "fast crash" scenario, at least you're pretty far from Toronto or Montreal.
My concern with the Ottawa area would be winter food. I guess you can slaughter any time of year, but I'm partial to a place where things grow year-round.

This is a tough one for me.  In my area there are a few CSAs that mostly sell their produce at farmers' markets in the wealthier suburbs of the nearby city.  They don't sell much where we actually live because most people here will pay the lower prices found at supermarkets (although for much lower quality) because they can't afford the farmers' market prices.  In fact, there is a farm that sounds very much like what you are planning right around the corner from me.  I occasionally buy from them personally because they know me, I can afford the prices and appreciate the quality.  I'm most decidedly the exception.
That business plan will work fine for farmers as long as not much changes in our society at large.  But, I don't think people here at PP believe that will be the case.  If the farmers can't survive selling their products at considerably lower prices, albeit to locals, they probably won't survive businesswise if and when the economy crumbles.
So, my advice is to figure out if you can sell your produce at prices competitive with the local supermarket prices.  In figuring that out, factor in higher prices and lower availability for fossil fuels.

Assuming your breed stock isn't confiscated or eaten I think you could do well during and after the transition.  Anyone with a practical working knowledge of how to produce zero carbon input food could be a king.  In the mean time I understand that the Amish do quite well using the business model you propose because,while minimal carbon inputs result in substantially lower productivity, they are not interested in maximizing profits for shareholders but in leaving a sustainable operation to their children.  Also, in light of current climate trends, central Ontario could be a garden spot in a generation or so.

John G

Glad to have you onboard Heinzi!  I don't have any input for your decision, but I can say that I'm very envious and would love to be forced to make that kind of decision just about now.  In contrast to your situation, we're in center city Philadelphia and committed to staying for 5-7 more years. Then we can retire and face your current kind of decision.  The only kinds of things that would accelerate our decision to leave would be for the detroitification of Philadelphia to fall upon us in less than the 12-15 years I'm expecting. Not to downplay your decision but I say, "Celebrate it! Revel in it!"
"Welcome to the Hunger Games. May the odds be ever in your favor."


"committed to staying for 5-7 more years. Then we can retire…"I wish you luck on that one!
Don't you worry that all the boomers coming into retirement in the next "5-7 more years" might just be the straw that breaks the camel's back? I hear a lot of people saying something similar, and that is scary!
Being in a similar situation, I elected for early liquidation of my retirement savings in 2008. Of course, the stock market has gone up and up since then, but I'm not unhappy to be off that roller-coaster.
If you have a public employee retirement plan, it may be different, but I'd hate to have my retirement in stocks and bonds when the bubble bursts!

Yes, we're working on 2 public employee pensions.  We figure the same forces that would cut our promised benefits by 50-90% would also boost our gold and silver to the moon.  Hoping that they happen at the same time, roughly.  Not so for Detroit public pensions, or other early cities in the bankruptcy race (Central Falls, RI, etc.).  They got bankruptcy now, still waiting for the precious metals moon shot (if they even have any).  But our city pension fund is second worst to Chicago's (% unfunded), so we'll have to see. But our city pension fund is all stocks and bonds, projecting 7.75% annual gains and prohibited from investing in gold/silver. Not holding our breaths.