If you are not already familiar with a specific area, an airplane ride and/or a detailed map are the best ways to get started. The plane ride makes it easy to determine the amount of available cover, providing a "real time" view of the area. Both options combined will show the proximity to water, roads, trails, bridges and towns.
With a map, you can also determine the steepness of the surrounding terrain, elevations, natural barriers and walking distances. Only then can you determine which features are a hindrance and which ones are considered a benefit. If its seclusion you seek, forging a river into a road less area far from any bridges or trails is hard to beat.
Some areas are not suitable for winter survival. Most animals migrate out of these areas during the winter months. If big game animals leave the area to winter, you are probably too high in elevation to survive a long, cold winter. That is, unless you have a cabin, running water and a sufficient food supply readily available. Either choose a region that has moderate snow fall, plan to return home before winter sets in or plan to migrate to wintering grounds before freezing temperatures and heavy snow accumulation make travel impossible. Just remember, most water comes from snow melting in the high country. If you want to have plenty of water, go to the source.
In general, elevation determines; climate, weather patterns, temperature, forest lines, types of vegetation and snow depth. Microclimates are common in mountainous regions. There can be significant differences in the amount of wind, rain or snow received from one watershed to the next. So, it pays to know the specific areas reputation for summer and winter conditions.
Most important, climate determines the length of the growing season. Even if the season is typically predictable, a freak early or late frost should be a real concern. It's imperative that you grow a percentage of plants that can handle these unpredictable conditions. While there are many natural plant food sources available, learning what to eat and what not to eat can take considerable time. The ability to grow garden-variety foods will eliminate many of these concerns and keep the body strong and healthy. Even areas with relatively short growing seasons can produce tomatoes, potatoes radishes, onions, carrots, berries, peas, beats, lettuce and spinach, to name a few. Caching a seed bank could prove to be very wise.
Deciding whether to rent, lease or purchase a getaway as opposed to camping on public land is an important multi faceted decision. Private land offers many advantages but this option also comes with certain disadvantages. Some important advantages to owning or leasing private land are staying stationary and being able to construct a permanent, comfortable camp. The primary disadvantages are cost and being a stationary target with highly sought after, valuable provisions. On the other hand, public land may be free to enjoy but any kind of permanent construction is generally forbidden. However, in a life or death situation the “doctrine of necessity” could offer some legal protections and there may not be any other viable options available. If Martial Law is ever openly declared, personal and property rights will be suspended, so all bets are off anyway.
Before choosing a campsite, there are several other things to consider. The cabin in this photo (above) was built near a small stream. It was later destroyed by a flash flood when the stream burst its banks. Also, camping in or near the bottom of a draw means colder temperatures, less sunlight and more bugs if water is present.
For the reasons mentioned above, it is best to make camp at least 50 feet in elevation above the bottom of a draw. Measure this minimal distance from any visible high water mark. In the northern hemisphere, southern exposures offer warmth while north-facing slopes are cooler. In most high elevation (above 4000ft) timbered regions, warmth and sunlight are usually more important than shade.
At this particular site (above) I tapped into a nearby spring for our water supply. Shoving a 3ft length of 1" pipe into the outlet and digging a hole under the spillway made filling water containers relatively easy. There was plenty of fresh clean water to supply a small camp for a short stay. For longer stays, it is well worth the time and energy it takes to develop a system that will eliminate the need to manually pack water. Did that statement register? Once a camp is established, it won't take long to realize the importance of this point. Over time, packing water to supply a camp, garden and livestock will become a never ending, back breaking chore. Lastly, using a hand saw and small shovel, we were able to fashion a temporary hitching post for our horses.