Survival Retreat: How To Plan & Build Your Own

By Will Brendza | Last Updated: March 11, 2016

Survival RetreatThere are lots of reasons you should build a survival retreat:

Whatever your motive, having your very own survival retreat is one of the best ways to ensure your safety should you ever have a real reason to get out of Dodge!

Such a retreat can act as a large personal survival cache for necessary survival supplies or as a sustainable place to hunker down and defend yourself.

A survival retreat also acts as a permanent “bug-out-location” – a place where you and your family/friends meet up if things get really bad.

Even if you never actually use this refuge retreat for survival, it can still be an incredibly rewarding DIY project.

Working with your hands to create your own shelter is a primal experience that most humans never get to experience.

What project could be more satisfying than building your very own roof over your head?

And besides, in times of peace, this little sanctuary can function as a great place to get away from the monotony of social life.

A place to bask in the glory of the natural world, hike, fish, hunt, ski, mountain bike, meditate and breathe the cleanest, freshest air available.

This article serves to guide you through the process of creating your very own survival retreat. It will cover the following:

  • Budget considerations
  • Legal Considerations
  • Where is the best place to build a survival retreat
  • Several kinds of structures are available, and how to create them
  • Storage and supplies
  • How to fend off unwanted guests (both human and otherwise)
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Before you start any construction, realize that this is no light undertaking.

You can get into legal and physical trouble if you do not take this project seriously.

But when done right, this can be one of the most useful survival projects you’ve ever created on your own.

But when done right, this can be one of the most useful survival projects you’ve ever worked on.

Planning Survival Treat Location

Use Maps and Scouting To Find A Suitable Survival Retreat Location

Where To Build Your Survival Retreat

It is a good idea to spend a lot of time searching for the right piece of land to purchase. A project like this only requires a small acreage. Heck, one acre is enough; anything more is a bonus. However, this decision is very dependent on your budget.

Unfortunately, more land costs more money.

The more money you are willing and able to spend, the better the piece of property you will get. But if you skimp yourself on this investment or don’t plan this step out, you will surely regret it later. Here are a few considerations:

  • Water is necessary. If there is no natural water available or a way to dig yourself a well, it will not be a safe place for survival. Ideally, there is a creek, stream, or river nearby that can act as a source of both food and water. There will likely be fish, and animals will hang out around water sources for the same reasons you want to.
  • Fertile soil is best. This might be difficult to find if you decide to take refuge in the desert. But in forested areas or the mountains, buying land that you can till and sow to grow food is important, especially for survival scenarios.
  • You must have adequate cover wherever you place your cabin, adobe hut, earth-sheltered home, or other structures. Be it big rocks, sand dunes, trees, shrubs, brush, or cliffs – whatever – making sure that your survival retreat is naturally camouflaged will boost your chances of avoiding unnecessary confrontations. So cover it up.

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3 Survival Retreat Options

3 Types Of Simple Survival Retreats (And How To Build Them)

There are numerous directions you can go at this point. You can build a treehouse like the Swiss Family Robinson (although it is inadvisable considering how difficult it would be to get food and water up into the tree).

So instead of covering all possibilities, I will focus on three types of buildings that are the most common and most effective for survival purposes.

1. Survival Cabins

The Advantages: Cabins are, without a doubt, one of your best options. When built correctly, they are sturdy, durable, long-lived, relatively cheap, and easy to construct.

Designing the layout of a cabin is simple – often, it’s just a square. Because they are built from thick timbre, they naturally blend into the environment (like forests or mountains), are highly windproof, and are waterproof.

Buy a Cabin Kit or DIY? If you search online, there are a lot of pre-designed cabin kits online that you can purchase and have delivered and constructed wherever you want. Here are a few examples:

But many people strongly urge against buying a cabin kit. These shelters are built at a factory, disassembled, shipped to you, and rebuilt on-site. But worse than that, they are highly susceptible to excessive “settling.”

Settling happens over time as the wood dries and warps. Settling creates gaps in the floor and wall planks and causes other deformities to emerge. These kits produce shelters that are expensive, challenging to set up, and all too often of poor quality.

So it is highly recommended that you build the cabin yourself, especially if you’re a DIY survivalist.

Now there are many variables and options to consider when planning to build your cabin.

The first decision is the species of tree you will be using for your log cabin.

Here’s an excellent article providing an overview of all the options and pros and cons to help you with your selection process: Choosing Your Wood Species

And if you plan to use trees that are abundant on your property, it’s still good to research the pros and cons of that particular species before starting your build. That way, you’ll understand the pros and cons of the species and can plan accordingly.

It’s also imperative that you understand the debarking and seasoning process. If not properly debarked and seasoned, you will get premature rot and excessive settling with your cabin.

The second decision you must make is the stacking and interlocking method you intend to use.

Here are some of the options you can research further:

  • Full-Round Butt & Pass
  • Handcrafted Saddle notch
  • Traditional Butt & Pass
  • Swedish Cope Saddle notch
  • Timber Dovetail
  • D-Log Dovetail
  • Variable Stack Height Butt & Pass
  • Hand-Scribed Saddle notch
  • Round Vertical Post
  • Square Vertical Post

This web page has a close-up image of each option for you to get an idea of how they work.

Again, each of these building methods has positives and negatives. However, for simplicity, I recommend sticking with either the “Butt & Pass” method or the “notch” method.

Here’s a video using the simple saddle notch method.

The third and final part of the log cabin build is the chinking process. Chinking is the process of filling in the gaps between the logs to improve insulation.

When this is done correctly, chinking keeps the bugs, rodents, and the cold out; while keeping warm in.

Final Log Cabin Tips

One way to try and save a few dollars on this project is to use timber from your property. I’ve heard some examples of survivalists building a simple log cabin for around $500 (doesn’t include your time tho!)

In my opinion, a simple one-room log cabin is easiest to build using the “butt-and-pass” method. See the below video for  some extra insight into a “notching” vs. a “butt-and-pass.”

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2. Earth Sheltered Homes

An earth shelter is my favorite survival retreat option. It uses the Earth as a natural layer of insulation; it is extremely energy efficient and blends in with the natural environment better than any other shelter style.

There are two main types of earth-sheltered homes:

Some are built into the sides of hills, like hobbit holes – this provides warm insulation through cold months and cool insulation during hot ones.

It conserves rainwater and heals its scars on the environment, and because the body of the structure is mostly underground, these are tough to spot from a distance.

Caves make for great homes – although there are not many windows.

Some people will accentuate a cave by hollowing it out to a greater extent, making it deeper and creating more living space.

The only construction you need to do is at the mouth of the cave, where you install a front door.

These types of shelters are also largely impervious to hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, wildfires, and other natural disasters.

Earth-sheltered homes make for some of the world’s most sustainable and efficient survival shelters.

The roofs are typically covered with soil and vegetation, so these buildings survive well in harsh weather (especially high winds).

Here’s a 2-minute time-lapse video of an Earth Bag House being built.

3. Survival Adobe Huts

These are your best bet when planning your survival retreat in the desert. Native Americans have used adobe huts for centuries.

In fact, it is one of the oldest building materials currently in use, and for a multitude of reasons: adobe huts are made from the soil and dirt of the surrounding earth, so they blend into their environments perfectly.

They also offer fantastic thermal mass material holding both hot and cold and are simple to build. Because most adobe huts have flat roofs, they are not a good choice for any region that gets snow or heavy rainfall.

But again, they are ideal for dry desert environments.

Here’s a primitive abode hut being built with only primitive tools. I know you can do it with the advantage of some hand tools (worth watching the entire video!)

Survival Water Storaged

Storage Areas And Supply List

To keep a stash of goods hidden, you’ll need to create a space for supply storage:

Storage cellars are a simple solution. Dig a hole beneath your cabin, earth shelter, or adobe hut – making it as large as necessary and lining the floor and walls with stones. Cover it up with some planks of wood (like floorboards) or a hatch door.

This also serves as a type of cooling chamber because of its subsurface, which is dark and lined with stone. So it will help keep perishable food fresh for a little while longer. Don’t expect miracles tho.

Storage units can be created in smaller versions of your survival shelter: build a smaller adobe hut outside your larger one, a little wooden shed outside your cabin, or another miniature earth shelter storage unit.

This is effective for storing just about everything, but you must invest in solid doors and good locks to keep out wild animals.

The stash of supplies you keep in your survival shelter is extremely personal, but here are a few staples to get you started:

WATER. Start with survival water storage techniques. Keep a couple of 50-gallon drums outside for a rainwater collection system. Buy bottled water packages, and ensure a water filtration system or iodine for sterilization.

Non-perishables are invaluable in just about any disaster or survival situation. Canned goods, packaged and sealed goods, dehydrated foods, Hostess Twinkies – anything with a long shelf life. Bring a basket full of non-perishables every time you visit our survival shelter and add to your stash.

Packaged seeds for planting produce. Storing these could prove invaluable when you had to make a home out of your survival retreat. Including various vegetables, fruits, and legume seeds stocked up and preserved is always an excellent preparation idea.

Tools like handsaws, hammers, and nails, screws and screwdrivers, hatchets, axes, shovels are extremely useful. Gardening tools (i.e., pots, pans, utensils, plates, and bowls) make life a lot easier.

Weapons and ammunition. Everything you can think of that falls under this category is on the table – it all just depends on what you trust to keep at your survival retreat.

Entertainment can be just as important as any tool or weapon you bring to your shelter. If you stay there for a while, books, board games, instruments, and puzzles will be the best way to fight cabin fever. Your sanity is important to your health.

Medication and medical supplies are paramount for survival. You can leave it as simple as a first-aid kit or custom-build an emergency medical kit for your survival shelter. Here is an excellent guide to making a medical kit.

But be warned: medications all have an expiration date. If you keep these stored, you will have to diligently replace them as they expire – which can be time-consuming and expensive.

Supplies like band-aids, bandages, gauze, splints, swabs, etc., never go bad.

Fishing and hunting supplies are critical for obvious reasons.

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Tresspasser's Sign

Keeping Out Unwanted Guests

The most consistent chore that every owner of a cabin or second home struggles with is the threat of invasion. And it is especially difficult with small, off-the-grid shelters.

Animals and insects are your worst enemies. Keeping rodents, birds, beasts, and bugs out will be a constant endeavor.

  • Tightly seal windows and doors, and make sure to close up any spaces in doorframes.
  • Try to avoid having high rafters, as birds like to nest in areas like this. Similarly, do not let the roof overhang become infested by birds.
  • Keep sticky and snap traps for mice, rats, and rodents that want to burrow or sneak in. Lay these by entrances and especially around the food cache.

You should also prepare to secure your shelter against other human beings. Even if you think your shelter is well hidden and camouflaged, losing your backup survival stash or, worst, having someone commandeer your survival retreat altogether would be a shame.

Make sure you invest in a few home fortification techniques.

  • Install heavy doors, deadbolts, and padlocks
  • Reinforce doorframes
  • Add window bars and window locks
  • Keep everything inside hidden – if someone can see you have valuable things inside, they are more likely to try a break-in. Do not tempt people. Create spaces to hide everything; it is best if your shelter looks abandoned when you are not there.
  • Be conspicuous – you do not have to disguise your survival shelter as some long-abandoned ruin (although that would probably deter many would-be intruders), especially if you plan on using this place recreationally. There is no reason you can’t make it look nice. But the bigger you build, and the more lavish the house becomes, the more attention it will draw.
  • Consider a few non-lethal booby traps to deter anyone trying to sneak onto your survival retreat property.

dollar bill

A Survival Retreat’s Budget Considerations

I am sorry to say, but a survival retreat costs time and money. You can achieve it on a shoestring, but the more capital you have, the better equipped you are to tango with this DIY.

Throughout my research, I found drastically different estimates and reports – the cheapest was $1750, and the most expensive being in the six digits.

There is no upper limit to what you can spend on the construction and preparation of your survival retreat, but there is a minimum price.

Whatever you choose to devote to this project is totally dependent on your current financial circumstances.

If you’re on a shoestring budget, you can consider teaming up with friends and family to share the costs and labor. You could also investigate some financing options.

If you don’t mind a small monthly payment in exchange for a quaint survival retreat, you may be able to make it happen that way.

Why? You ask. Why can’t someone go deep into the wilderness, find a special, super-secret hiding spot, harvest the lumber right there, and build a squatter’s cabin for next to nothing?

Well, that is an excellent segue into the next section:

lawyer sign

Legal Considerations

Pioneers, miners, loggers, hunters, and trappers all used to have the freedom of posting up on any mountain or within any forest they so desired. This is sadly not the case anymore.

Erecting a structure on private or government property without the proper paperwork could lead to fines, or worse – some US states, like Nevada, uphold “stand your ground laws” that might authorize property owners to open fire on squatters.

It is, in fact, very rare that squatters are awarded property rights. You are more likely to get shot at and quickly evicted.

So you will have to buy some land; wherever you choose, it might have unique building laws or structure codes.

In most cases, for building a small one or two-room survival shelter, a building permit will not be required – but if they are, you will be looking at a hefty fine.

Better safe than sorry; it only takes a few minutes to check.

A quick internet search or a call to your state government office or building inspections will tell you all you need to know to get started.

The Final Words of Wisdom

Having a survival retreat will offer great peace of mind. Knowing that you have a bug-out location stocked, armed, and ready for you to occupy should a major disaster strike.

And in the meantime, before the apocalypse, it can be used as a quiet recreational vacation spot. Your reason to get outdoors and be at peace with nature.

There is very little downside to owning a piece of property and building a survival shelter there. You could even make it a full-time survival homestead if you plan properly.

There is no downside to owning a small remote piece of property and building a survival shelter there. You could even live there full-time if and when you’re ready.

Further Reading

One article is not enough information to make any final decisions about investing in land and constructing your survival retreat.

I recommend you continue to do more research if you are serious about this project and ensure that you properly plan and prepare before you do anything drastic.

Here are some further survival retreat resources:

As A Way To Introduce You To Skilled Survival, We're Giving Away Our #78 Item Complete Prepper Checklist. Click Here To Get Your FREE Copy Of It.

So which design interests you most? Do you already have a survival retreat? If so, which kind, and would you pick that option again, knowing what you know now?

We’d appreciate your input, so leave us a comment!

Will Brendza

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