Bug Out Shelter: Improving Your Chances Of Survival

Bug out kayaks tent

When you’re trying to stay safe in an emergency, it’s important that you have an emergency shelter on hand. You don’t know how long you’re going to be out here in the wilderness, and it’s best to be prepared in case it has to be for a very long time. One of the best ways to do this is with a bug out shelter.

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Many people already have cabins in the woods that they can use if they want to get away from it all, but there are necessary steps you have to take to keep these shelters safe from predators and intruders. And when you’re hurrying in an emergency, there are some vital things that you can forget. Having a fully stocked bug out shelter will help you stay safe for a much longer period of time.

Building a cabin or a retreat on your own can be very costly, so it helps to have a more feasible solution that’s simple but effective.

Tips for building a cabin

If a cabin is your first thought, then you’re going to have to take into account the many precautions that come with building your own cabin shelter. It’s important that your cabin withstands a lot that nature has to offer, including the weather as well as the animals that live in the surrounding area. Below there are some important tips to keep in mind if you’re building a cabin by yourself.

The materials

The material that you use is very important. It has to be sturdy, as well as easy to put together. T-11 siding is popular, but there are animals like the porcupine who are attracted to the scent of the glue used in making the plywood, and they’ll devour the siding in no time. It’s also quite easy for birds to peck holes in the wood, which allows bugs in. If you do decide to use T-11 siding, it’s important that you make sure that the nail spacing is tight and that you use construction adhesive to prevent these incidents from happening.

T 11

The gable ends of your cabin are quite vulnerable, so it’s important that your blocking is flush with the siding. If you want to prevent these from breaking, you can use sheet metal or rat proof mesh screens to cover them and ensure that your cabin remains structurally sound.

See also: Survival Tents: Staying High And Dry in Emergencies

When it comes to the kind of would you’ll use to build your cabin with, pressure treated is always better than exposed. Many animals and insects use wood as a food source, and exposure to the elements will make it that much more palatable. Pressure treated prevents water damage from occurring, and will keep your wood lasting much longer.

In building your roof, refrain from using tar paper roofing or wood. Many bugs would find this kind of roofing very attractive, and you could end up with more problems than you expected. Choose steel roofing, as it’s more durable and bugs don’t find it attractive at all.

Building the cabin

When building the frame of your cabin, it’s important to consider the seismic and wind conditions of the area your cabin is located in. Using Simpson-type metal fasteners as liberally as possible in the construction will help to keep your cabin together. You should include them in post caps, post bases, connections between rafters and walls, and anchor bolts. Plain nails are not going to save you when the winds pick up or earthquakes occur.

Access points

Access points are great for allowing cabins to breathe, but these spots make it quite easy for rats, mice, other rodents, wasps, and yellow jackets to get inside. This can not only ruin your experience during your stay, but your food supply can also be exhausted and contaminated. Keep vents as small as possible and screen any openings to prevent their entry.

Avoid having open rafters at the eaves. Critters can use these points to get inside as well. one solution to this is to eliminate any overhang and frame the rafters so that they’re flush with the wall. Add gutters and downspouts to funnel the rain water away from your cabin so that you won’t have any leaking.

When the weather gets low to the point of freezing, avoid ice dams occurring by caulking the edge of your metal roof. If you don’t, then an ice dam can build up in the gutters and send water under the roof, and when it freezes, it can rip the roof right off. If your cabin is in an area where there is a lot of snow, the location of your chimney is very important. To avoid having snow and ice buildup around the chimney and affect its use, you should place it as near to the ridge of the roof as possible.

Entrance to the shelter

In regards to the crawl space under the floor framing, it can be a popular space for smaller animals to set up their nests and boroughs. In order to keep this area free, you can cover the underside of the floor framing with sheet metal.

Protection from intruders

Four-legged animals aren’t the only thing you’re going to need to protect your cabin from. Humans will find your place desirable and will try to gain access uninvited. You need to take the necessary steps to make it difficult for them to enter, whether you’re residing in your cabin or not. You can do this by framing your doors and shutters in heavy angle iron, and using carriage bolts to close them when you’re not there. Having a double later of doors that can be locked securely will also discourage them from trying to gain entry.

If you really want to keep your belongings safe, create secret stashes that would be difficult for the ordinary eye to find. Keeping your possessions out of sight will make your cabin look worthless and the trespassers will be none the wiser. Consider using areas that are difficult to locate, such as in the attic where the rafters meet the wall.

Protection from intruders

It’s good to consider adding a root cellar, as they have been used as storage for many centuries. You can easily build a hand-dug root cellar that’s lined with rocks. Use a steel door and steel frame to keep out any pests

And when in doubt, add a sturdy clasp and padlock to your outer most doors will keep everything inside more secure. If you can spare the expenses and you have neighbors that live close by, it could be a good idea to add a loud alarm that’s attached to a deep cycle battery in order to discourage burglars from trying to get in.

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You should always keep your bug out shelter well-stocked for long term use in the event of a natural disaster. Canned foods, medical kits, and spare clothing can make all the difference when you don’t have access to your usual means of supplies.

Preparing to bug out

For those who don’t have cabins, it can be an even bigger problem when a scenario takes place and we need to get out of there immediately. Living in a highly populated area can make it difficult to find somewhere that’s away from everyone else, so it’s important to know what to look for and how to prepare properly. The fundamentals for picking a bug out location are the same, no matter where you live, and it’s very important to keep these in mind.

Bug out infographic

The important factors to keep in mind when picking a place to bug out to, are: distance, location, finances, and accessibility. It also has to be able to sustain you and your family for an extended period of time, so planning ahead can make all the difference in the world.

Location of your bug out shelter

Your location is not only important for security reasons, but you’ll also need to pick somewhere that helps you be self-sufficient. Depending on where you live, bugging out to the mountains will require different preparation than bugging out to the plains.

For example, mountainous areas have plenty of natural resources that can be exploited for your benefit, such as running water, prey that you can catch and trap, and fruit that you can collect to sustain yourself. The trees also provide you with good cover if you are trying to hide and serve as a source of fuel for fires, but endurance is important, as a lot of climbing will be involved when you venture out for food.

The plains, on the other hand, offer less concealment so it’s best to be as far away from roads as possible if you don’t want burglars and trespassers to find you. You would also have less wood for fires and animals to catch for meals, but the plains are ideal for farming as long as you’re close to a water supply.

Traveling to your shelter

Once you’ve picked a good spot, you should keep in mind how you’re going to get there in an emergency situation. In crowded cities, vehicles aren’t going to be your best bet, as everyone will be driving to get away, and you’ll more than likely be stuck in a traffic jam.

Traveling to your shelter

After choosing a location, it’s important to have three different routes to get there so that if a problem ever arises, you always have an alternate solution. Your routes should avoid hot spots, danger zones, or populated areas. Your location should also be within one tank of gas if you do ever have to drive there. Any further, and you’ll either have to stop and refill from your gas canister or abandon your car and walk.

Determining your length of stay

Knowing how long you’re going to be staying at your shelter helps you to better prepare. You can plan ahead how much food and other supplies you’ll need to bring with you. The best way to prepare is to purchase an empty lot of land and continue to add your resources to it over a period of time. It will save you money, and you’ll be fully stocked for when you’ll need it. Be prepared to have backup plans for things like food and water, because the supplies you have will run out eventually and you don’t want to be caught defenseless.

Having the necessary survival skills

Living off the land is only something that the best preparers can do. Knowing beforehand what is safe to eat and drink, as well as keeping yourself safe with just the resources around you can make all the difference in the world. It takes many years of practice to learn to capture, trap, and skin your own prey, so honing your skills at an early start will help you in the long run.

Survival skills infographic

Before you choose a location for your bug out shelter, there are some important questions you should ask yourself beforehand:

  • what kind of wildlife live in the area
  • is there fertile soil that can be used for gardening
  • what crops can be grown in this area
  • are there nearby water sources that can be used for farming
  • is the area conducive to keeping livestock

These questions will help you to know what your limitations are so that you can better prepare for the future when it comes to food and water.

Having water nearby

Without water, a human being would die within three days. That’s why, having a fresh supply of water is very important. There are plenty of rivers and lakes, but they are filled with bacteria and viruses that can make you extremely sick if you were to drink from them.

Another concern is how you’re going to store the water. No one wants to make the trek every day, twice a day, to get enough water to drink and bathe with. Having a cistern that can be filled on a regular basis can save you a lot of energy and make it easier to stay safe by minimizing how much time you’re spending outdoors. The best way to get fresh water is build some mechanism that collects rain water and is kept free from mosquito larvae.

Taking the weather into account

It can be a difficult thing to predict, but being prepared for all kinds of weather will stop you from drowning. Depending on where you live, you’ll have to take winter into account and how you’re going to stay warm.

Prey will also be scarce to catch, meaning that you’ll have to stock up before it gets cold or look for alternative methods of finding food. The grey thing about prey is that they tend to stock up too right before winter, and that can make them meatier than they would usually be during the summer months.

You should also be prepared for and have escape plans in the case of a tornado, floods, blizzards, or any other natural disasters that would put your life in jeopardy. Some important questions to ask are:

  • how warm your shelter will be during winter
  • what will happen to your crops when the temperature drops or a flood hits
  • can your shelter withstand high winds
  • do you have enough supplies to get through severe weather patterns

Keeping your shelter hidden and safe

It can pay to camouflage your shelter as much as possible so that other people can’t find it. Mountainous areas are definitely going to offer more protection in the way of keeping your shelter hidden than being out on the plains. And when it comes down to it, you may need to defend your shelter as well from trespassers. Guns and ammo can only do so much and they can run out very quickly. Improvise with the environment around you to make you area look less attractive and not worth the risk.

Keeping your shelter hidden and safe

If you’re not capable of building your own bug out shelter from scratch, there are alternatives open to you. You may not have the best carpentry skills, but there are other means that you can use to construct some kind of shelter. Here’s just a small sampling of the things that can be used:

  • shipping containers
  • large vehicles or underground shelters
  • trailer homes and RVs

Being creative can help you to use every day things and create a shelter that will keep you safe and dry from the elements. And because they’re made out of ordinary things, not many people passing by would even consider it as a shelter, which helps you to stay “camouflaged” and passed over by potential threats.

When it comes to get to and from your shelter, it’s important to know the nearby areas. You could encounter populated areas along the way, and you don’t want people following you back to your safe haven. As stated above, it’s a good idea to have three different routes to get to your shelter for these reasons. It will help you stay safe.

Safe_Room infographic

Least of all, you need to know how many people are going to be traveling. The larger the number, the more supplies you’ll have to account for. On the other hand, more people means that more tasks can be designated so that more can get done in a smaller amount of time. But this will mean that they’ll take up more space in your shelter.

Don’t try and squeeze in more people than your shelter will allow, as this can make things uncomfortable and you’ll run out of resources more quickly. It pays to be smart to have more supplies than the people that you’ll be traveling with, just so that you’ll have extra when problems arise.


When it comes to keeping your bug out shelter well stocked, there are some essentials you should keep on hand so that you’re not left in the dark. These tools will not only keep you safe, but they’ll also keep the mood positive so that you don’t succumb to giving up all hope when things go down.

Supplies for bug out shelter

Keep in mind that this list is not exhaustive, so feel free to expand on these essentials.

  • containers that can hold at least 3 liters of water, metal canteens, portable water filters and water purification tablets
  • protein bars, dried foods, canned foods, can opened, metal pot, portable stove and stove fuel
  • protective clothing, such as waterproof jackets, ponchos, and hats; extra underwear and hiking socks are also a must
  • sleeping bags, tarps, blankets
  • firewood, tinder, fire-starting tools
  • first aid kits, insect repellant, various ointments for rashes, insect stings, and burns
  • all-purpose soap, hand sanitizer, travel toilet paper, small hand shovel, toothbrush and toothpaste
  • various bushcraft tools
  • solar lights, LED lights, lamps, flashlights, candles, batteries
  • emergency radios with hand cracks, cell phones, chargers with hand cranks
  • maps, compass, money in small bills, paper and pencil, emergency whistle
  • pepper spray, handguns, ammunition, bladed weapons
  • sewing kit, fishing line, parachute cord, garbage bags, binoculars, snare wire

These lists can be taken or added to according to where your shelter is and how long you think you’ll be there, as well as the skills you’re equipped with. Many of these items are small and light enough to carry on your person when you’re bugging out to your shelter, but many of the heavier items should be acquired beforehand and kept at your shelter in order to minimize the weight that you’ll be carrying with you.

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Staying ahead of the game is important when survival is the key. It can help to go through your escape plan and routine at least twice a month so that panic doesn’t take you when the moment arises. Assigning roles and tasks will make it easier to lighten your burden and keep the air stress-free when you’re bugging out to your shelter. For more information, see our reviews of the top survival gear and be ready for anything.

If you have pets, be sure to plan for their needs as well, as you don’t want them to suffer in an emergency situation. They can be the greatest asset you have, as they can warn you of danger and provide companionship. Account for the special medical needs of anyone who will be traveling with you, such as allergies or special medications. These may be difficult to take care of the longer you’re out in nature. It will be a struggle for a while, but it’s better than being ill-prepared when you get there.

For more tips, see our article on how to make a survival shelter for your protection.

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you click on one of these links and make a purchase, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Also, as an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases. If the information in this post has been helpful, please consider purchasing through one of the links in this article. Thank you.

About the author

David Dawson

David Dawson is a retired security specialist with over 20 years of experience. He worked for a secret manufacturing facilities and hospitals in Illinois. David's responsibility was to protect people in case of any disaster or cataclysm that might occur. Now he keeps on doing it through teaching others about how to prepare and survive flood, earthquake or even war.


  • Some great tips indeed. I just want to add that once you’ve set your plan, keep it private, treat it like top secret. You might never know who’s watching and following your footsteps. You definitely don’t want to show off. When SHTF, everyone will be on the lookout, the information you leave on the internet or elsewhere can and will be traced. In any case, be prepared for uninvited guests too!

  • I also firmly hold that the ideal bug out shelter is a private land, with an abundance of food, water, and guns, lots of guns. Again, groups have a higher chance of survival, in a mass-scale disaster, it’s harder for one person to protect his/her shelter from intruders when push comes to shove, it is better to join forces with fellow survivalists instead of challenging the world alone.

    Another vital point mentioned in the article is how quickly and safely can you travel to your shelter, I think you hit the nail on the head.

    Last but not least, since it is going to be “you versus the world” scenario, don’t neglect nature’s natural predators besides humans of course! Animals in the area may not be so welcoming after all.

  • Judith,

    Definitely, a bug-out shelter loses its purpose once you let the details go out. Keep the information within a small circle of trusted relations. Uninvited guests can be welcomed or shooed away depending on the nature of their acquaintance. But again, everything depends on how much you trust them.


  • Thank you for the comment Richard. Groups have a higher chance of survival but you have to be selective of who you join forces with. There are some who aim to take your supplies and leave you hanging.

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