The concept of the bug-out is basically a central tenet to prepping. When things truly take a turn for the worst, sometimes you have to abandon ship and head for the proverbial high ground.
Wherever you have it situated, having a backup property to shelter and regroup at might just save your life and the lives of your family or group.
This is where a bug-out cabin comes in. Whether or not it is an actual cabin, having a secluded property that you can head to instead of just heading away from trouble will be a true comfort.
But optimizing such a property for your success and survival is easier said than done.
To help you take care of this tricky task, I’m here with a guide that will help you both prepare and equip a bug-out cabin.
Table of Contents
For a Bug-out Cabin, Location is Everything
I know you’ve heard this old wisdom when it comes to real estate: it’s all about location, location, location.
Whether you’re shopping for the home of your dreams, trying to make a mint on a smart investment, or trying to choose the best bug-out location to withstand the collapse of society, that advice always applies.
While it’s true that having any secondary property that you own to evacuate to is it definitely a boon, not all of these properties are the same when it comes to effectiveness.
If you’re shopping for a property to put a bug-out cabin on, or any place that you can use as a bug-out cabin, keep the following in mind:
Distance from Home
This is a big one. You want a bug-out cabin that is far enough away that it likely will not be affected by whatever circumstances have sent you fleeing in the first place, but not so far away that you are truly facing an odyssey to get there by vehicle or on foot.
You’ll have to keep all of the other considerations in mind, but a general rule of thumb that I like to go by is 3 days worth of hard hiking to reach the cabin, or half a day’s drive assuming I’m not dealing with gridlock.
Any farther than that, and your chances of reaching it when you actually need to go down.
Ease of Access
Ease of access is also a big one, and I’m talking about the practical as well as the civic sense. Obviously, you need to be able to easily enough reach your cabin when it’s time to get there.
A perilous billy goat trail that you can barely get a bicycle up or a grueling hike up a steep hill are the last things you want to deal with when the chips are down.
Also, whatever kind of parcel you’re looking at, make sure you actually have access to the property. You aren’t arbitrarily guaranteed a driveway, easement, or other form of access through surrounding properties.
Even if you plan on throwing caution to the wind and trespassing when society implodes, that is still going to attract the wrong kind of attention, and you’ll need legal access to your property to get it fixed up or even built in the first place ahead of time.
How Discoverable is the Property?
This is another tricky subject. The more visible, or I like to say discoverable, your property is, the worse off it will typically be when the rule of law becomes shaky.
Cockroaches and critters always come out when the cops are busy with other things or simply not around. Accordingly, the more secluded your property is from the road and other thoroughfares, the better.
However, there’s something to be said for having a bug-out cabin located in a community of sorts if the neighbors are good people and if you can make friends with them so they can watch out for trespassers when you aren’t around.
In this case, maybe you can provide mutual support when things really go wrong…
There are a few essentials that you must ensure your bug-out cabin and the property it sits on can provide. Ignore any of these at your own peril.
Every prepper knows that water is the big one when it comes to consumable supplies. Without water, you’ll dehydrate and also be unable to maintain good hygiene, two certain show stoppers.
Accordingly, your bug-out cabin must be able to provide water from a well or spring, and supplement this with a rain-catching system if at all possible.
Having water trucked in is simply unacceptable and unsustainable under the circumstances.
Similarly, a stream or river might be okay, but the chances of contamination upstream (unless your property contains headwaters) makes this too dicey to depend on.
You must be able to deal with human waste under conditions of long-term habitation at your bug-out cabin.
A thorough discussion of this subject is covered in other articles here on Survival Sullivan, but whatever it is, it has to work for the long haul: a composting toilet, septic tank, or properly installed inside it out house are what you should be looking at.
A camping toilet might be okay, but you better have a pre-existing slit trench or functional cesspool that you can dispose of that waste in from day one.
Reasonable Protection from Weather Events
It is imperative that your bug-out cabin isn’t unnecessarily vulnerable to bad weather and weather-related events.
If your cabin might be swept away by flash floods coming down out of the mountains, you’ll probably be going from one bad turn into another.
Similarly, if your cabin is located in the middle of a tornado alley, an earthquake-prone region, on a coast, or anywhere else that’s especially prone to serious natural disasters, it might not be the most reliable of fallback locations.
How Often Do You Visit the Cabin?
Okay, so you got your cabin sited and built, or purchased. Time to get down to brass tacks…
How often do you visit your cabin? How often are you able to visit it? This is important because the longer it sits between visits the more vulnerable it will be to decay from exposure as well as infiltration by animals and people that discover it.
Routine visits are necessary to keep it cleaned up, inspected, supplies rotated, and to let anybody and anything watching know that people are around regularly.
Depending on the distance to your bug-out cabin, this will be easier or harder, but you cannot depend on a cabin being accessible and inhabitable after many years away with no effort on your part.
Plan to Pest-Proof, or Plan to Suffer
If you do nothing else that I recommend in this guide, do this one thing: you absolutely, positively must pest-proof your cabin! I’m talking about insects and mammal life here.
Insects are a reasonably simple puzzle, but one that doesn’t suffer mistakes or neglect.
Consider also that insects are far more plentiful in the remote places of the world than they are in the middle of town.
Your cabin must be protected against termites, ants, roaches, and a whole lot more inside and out.
Weather-stripping must be kept in good shape and all gaps caulked or otherwise sealed. This is especially critical if you have perishable supplies inside.
When it comes to mammals, the major concerns are rodents in the form of mice and rats, but squirrels can also be just as troublesome along with raccoons and sometimes possums.
Hardware cloth, heavy-duty metal mesh screens, and other closures for every single opening and crack in your home are mandatory. Don’t forget the chimney if you have one.
If you live in an area where larger, intrusive mammals like bears are present, think twice before leaving food inside unless you keep it hermetically sealed.
Bears can barge through doors, and in some cases, plow right through walls in quest of food, and they’ll do a hell of a lot of damage to your cabin while they’re in there.
Should You Stock Your Cabin with Gear and Supplies?
One of the biggest fundamental questions that I see brought up time and time again on this subject is whether or not you should have pre-stock your bug-out cabin with gear and other supplies.
There is no truly right answer, but let’s look at the most important factors.
In favor of pre-stocking the cabin: this might give you the things you need to sustain, survive and possibly even thrive if you’re forced to flee with just the clothes on your back, or in case you consume or lose supplies and gear that you bring with you otherwise.
Having replacements, or redundancy, is always good.
In opposition of pre-stocking the cabin: anything in your cabin is still prone to spoilage or degradation in time if not maintained and rotated, being stolen by criminals, or being infested or otherwise get ruined by pests as described above.
Whether or not you are in the “for” or “against” column probably depends on how often you get out to your cabin to check on things, maintain what needs to be maintained and show a presence to man and beast alike.
If you do want to pre-stock your bug-out cabin, the following items make a good core for whatever you want to include.
The usual prepper foods work here: Rice, beans, tuna cans, etc. Shelf stable, calorie- and nutrient-dense, long-lasting.
Whatever you store at your bug-out cabin, make sure it is sealed up as tightly as possible in appropriately rated food storage containers or buckets.
Consider that you’ll need fuel at your bug-out cabin, and maybe not just for your vehicle.
You’ll need multiple fuel sources, because propane, gasoline, or diesel can be used to run tools and vehicles that use them, of course, but you’ll also need firewood for a fireplace, wood stove, or thermoelectric generator if you use one.
Don’t assume you will have the wherewithal and the time to just start chopping firewood when you get there!
Medicine and medical supplies are always essential, and it definitely worth including at your cabin considering you might be arriving sick or injured.
Don’t forget to include any prescription medications that you or family members need, and if you have need of prescription eyewear, it’s a good idea to keep a spare set at your cabin.
Having fresh, clean, durable clothes to change into when you arrive at your cabin we’ll make a world of difference in your comfort and in your attitude.
Make sure you keep seasonally appropriate clothing there, too. Take care to protect the clothing from moths and other critters that could tear them up.
Tools are constant targets for theft, and I know this recommendation is going to set some people on edge accordingly.
However, having a few basic hand tools at your bug-out cabin can let you do the things you need to do and make any necessary repairs when you arrive.
Think twice before keeping power tools at your cabin unless they are truly disposable.
If You Stock Your Cabin, You Must Rotate as Usual
Just a reminder for anyone who might have breezed past: any perishable food or other supplies that you keep at your cabin must be rotated as normal.
If you don’t know what this means or how to do it, don’t worry, I’ve written several lengthy articles on it right here. Your medicine, your food, your fuel, and most other things will break down and go bad over time.
The things that won’t can still get ruined by pests, mold, mildew, and rust. Always check them on the regular, and rotate as needed.
The Best Bug-Out Cabins are Self-Contained
Consider this, if it is possible: the very best bug-out cabin setup is one that is self-contained. I mean to say that when you arrive, it provides everything you need for life support inside and out.
It will provide you with your survival necessities, and also have all of the necessary tools, gear and supplies that you need to keep on surviving.
If this is achievable and if the risk profile of investing even more in your cabin works out, this is what you should be working toward.
A “Ready for Arrival” Cabin is Second Best
However, if you can’t afford to fully stock your cabin with a redundant set of supplies, or frankly you think it’s just too risky owing to the activities of malcontents in the area or even animals, the next best thing is to keep your cabin in good shape so that it is ready to give you shelter when you arrive.
This doesn’t mean you get to ignore your cabin until you need it, of course, because the structure itself will still need plenty of maintenance and upkeep, along with the rest of the property.
Consider regular trips to your cabin to mend a thing or two while you’re there…
You Must Be Prepared to Repair and Defend Your Cabin
Something else to keep in mind is that your very first task upon arriving at your bug-out cabin might be the necessity of repairing it, if it was damaged in the preceding events, or even defending it from people who might already be there squatting or arriving close behind you with an interest in taking what you have.
The best way to prepare against both of these eventualities is, once more, an entirely separate and quite lengthy conversation.
But also once again, and happily, I’ve discussed both of these subjects in depth here on Survival Sullivan.
Don’t Be Afraid to Use Technology to Your Advantage
I want to caution readers against being “survival luddites”.
There’s a thread that winds through the prepper community, one that preaches forsaking all modern and electronic technology for survival purposes.
The idea is that electricity will be completely unavailable during the event or that whatever high-tech device we are relying on is fundamentally unstable and can’t be counted on during an emergency.
There is a grain of truth in this, but I think it’s backward thinking for the most part.
Properly managed, and with a little bit of investment in personal infrastructure in the form of battery banks, solar cells, generators and other technology, your electronics can keep right on working and working for you in the aftermath of nearly any SHTF event.
For instance, modern, à la carte security camera solutions, door and window alarms, motion sensors, drones, and the like all provide invaluable capability.
If your cabin has cell phone signal, that might be all it takes to keep a security system operational, giving you a lot of peace of mind when it comes to protecting the property and what you have inside.
Just something to think about, and it definitely worth pursuing if the budget and the circumstances make sense.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.