Survival Defense For Uncommon Shelters

How do you protect your home, retreat or homestead if it is underground or if it is of different design and construction than a regular house? What about improvised shelters in the woods or temporary camps?

Many self-reliant people build homes of unconventional materials such as CONEX container houses, underground houses, earthbag domes or earthship houses to make use of their passive solar features, insulation, low cost, non-flammable properties, or the fact that they provide better hard cover against small arms fire than wood-framed homes.

Many readers have also asked about how to defend campsites or improvised wilderness shelters.

Tactics and strategy for the two scenarios have some differences, but correct principles of home and retreat defense apply to both, so I will lay out some pointers for retreat defense then and list some specific tactics for camps.

Defense of Irregular Shelters

Maintain Mobility

Do not let yourself become boxed-in. This is common mistake in bunker design. Building a safe room or bunker with a single point of entry and exit is a grave mistake. Unless you maintain the option of mobility, your shelter could become a death trap.

Building multiple hidden escape routes will allow you to bypass the fatal funnels created by doorways, window and hallways and improve chances of escaping undetected. Make sure that personnel can also reach your LP/OP (Listening Post/Observation Post) and return to barracks undetected. Obvious changing of the guard according to schedule can give away your LP/OP’s location.

In addition to making sure that the design of your unique structure does not limit your own mobility, you want to design your shelter, outbuildings fences, fields and unimproved land to deny mobility and tactically advantageous ground to your enemy.

Leverage the Inherent Defensive Characteristics of Your Building Materials

Make the most of your materials and construction method starting in the design phase.  Many less-conventional construction materials such as containers, earthen berms, earth domes, earth bags, stone and concrete, are largely non-flammable and highly resistant to small arms fire.

With relatively small investments in the design and construction phases, many can non-conventional structures can be engineered and built in a fashion that will enable them to absorb much more kinetic damage than traditional construction.

While burning defenders out is an ancient tactic that is difficult to defend against in a wood framed home, defending a home against fire becomes a reasonable goal if you construct your home of primarily inflammable materials such as containers, earth, concrete, brick or blocks.

Tee Pee like shelter in the woodsContainers lend themselves to the construction of fort or motor court style homes where an inner courtyard can be enclosed by containers arranged in a square instead. Some of my pioneer ancestors built their homes and dugouts in a similar fort style when they colonized the West and made double use of the tactic in route by circling their wagons.

In fort-style structures, outbuildings extend into the courtyard and fields are cleared and planted outside the forts to afford an unobstructed line of sight and fire and provide a firebreak between the dwellings and forested areas.

Containers can be stacked or up-ended to gain the advantage of height. The walls of an up-ended container form a structure not unlike a square castle tower. In some cases, certain container homes may not need a building permit, which can go a long way toward keeping your “hidey hole” hidden.

Many underground and earth berm homes have soil rooftops that can be planted with vegetation to prevent erosion. A little attention in the design phase can break up the outline of the home, and camouflage it. An earth roof and mature vegetation can also help hide the shelter from the air, satellite imagery and IR sensor technology.

Compensate for Any Vulnerabilities Inherent to Your Chosen Building Method

Subterranean structures are often vulnerable the introduction of water, smoke, gas, accelerants and grenades. Compensate for these vulnerabilities making provide good situational awareness and respond to a threat or escape before enemies are able to trap you in an underground shelter.

Install defensive works such as hidden escape tunnels, drains, security doors, fighting positions, an LP/OP, cameras, microphones and well-concealed, tamper-resistant air intakes.

Depending on the strength of the enemy you face, it may or may not be advantageous for your home to look like a bunker.

Camp Defense

Choosing Your Camp Site
First of all, you need to exercise great care in your choice of campsites.

  • Choose sites that are unobservable from lines of drift. (Lines of drift are trails, roads, rivers, riverbeds, fence lines, bridges, ridges and other places people are most likely to walk.) Dense foliage and forest can work to your advantage here.
  • Pick sites that are not observable from higher ground or other dominant terrain features. Avoid campsites near key terrain that could be used to locate you, correct fire or pour direct fire down into your camp.
  • Make sure the sites you choose have more than one route of egress.
  • The best sites have good cover and concealment.
  • Select sites that have terrain obstacles or other obstacles between them and major lines of drift.

Video first seen on North Survival.

Campsite Security Pointers

  • Assess the threat you face before you create your strategy. Consider whom you will be defending the camp against, their resources and their mode of operations.
  • Maintain combat tracking discipline. Most camps are discovered because of a poor choice in bivouac site or a failure of spore (track), scent, light or noise discipline.
  • Your camp must train together as a unit. Everyone in the camp should train in small unit tactics as a group. Regardless of how fast you hose down targets, if you only train standing in one place, on a square, one-way shooting range, you need to improve your training in order to achieve any degree of effectiveness in combat. For a security element to become effective in combat, they must shoot, move and communicate as a unit. They should train in a 360-degree environment, in uneven terrain, against an OPFOR (opposing force.) If your group engages in regular, realistic, stressful, dynamic, 360-degree, group training, has competent training and competent leadership, they will enjoy a decisive advantage over most other groups their size, greatly improving the individual odds of survival for each member.
  • Equip your group with combat multipliers. Force or combat multipliers are specialized equipment and personnel with specialized training who can give a smaller group combat effectiveness equal to a larger one. Appropriately armed and equipped sniper/spotter pairs, designated marksmen, a security element equipped with night vision equipment, heavy caliber anti-material weapons, SAWs, IEDs, trained canines and communications gear are all examples of combat multipliers provided you have them and your enemy doesn’t. By engaging the enemy with highly accurate fire from beyond the range of his weapons systems, a sniper spotter pair or even a single designated marksman can decapitate an enemy patrol’s leadership or long-range communications, crush the patrol’s resolve by making them take casualties. They can even pin down the entire patrol long enough for your group to escape if they engage the patrol from key ground and patrol lacks ready access to air support or indirect fire weapons. Night vision equipment can deliver a decisive advantage at night, denying your enemy mobility at night and delivering the same to your group.
  • Prepare fighting positions for pickets behind existing hard cover in positions where they can see the enemy coming from far off and then ambush him on lines of drift with enfilade fire (striking the enemy’s flank to put as many in the line fire as possible) from defilade (positions not observable until they are at the flank.) Then improve your fighting positions by digging them in and camouflaging them. Pickets must be able to silently warn the camp of enemy approach so the camp can man a layered defense. Everyone should carry a whistle as a backup to communications.
  • Establish a 360-degree perimeter to maintain security.
  • Make sure everyone in your camp keeps your camp’s OPSEC tight and knows their E&E plan and rally point. All persons in the camp should wear basic SERE gear in their pockets at all times and keep their weapon, battle belt and fighting load carrier or plate carrier and go-bag within arm’s reach.
  • Use a combination of natural and very well camouflaged improved obstacles outside your perimeter to channel the enemy away from your camp along lines of drift. Using trip flares or noisemakers too near your camp will let the enemy know they have found you. Booby traps far from camp slow enemy movement and soften resolve but they are a double-edged sword. They will turn the locals against you endanger or harm their loved ones, so they need to be command detonated … which makes the guy pushing the button a target for snipers, artillery and aircraft.


This article has been written by Cache Valley Prepper for Survivopedia.

Written by

Cache Valley Prepper is the CEO of Survival Sensei, LLC, a freelance author, writer, survival instructor, consultant and the director of the Survival Brain Trust. A descendant of pioneers, Cache was raised in the tradition of self-reliance and grew up working archaeological digs in the desert Southwest, hiking the Swiss Alps and Scottish highlands and building the Boy Scout Program in Portugal. Cache was mentored in survival by a Delta Force Lt Col and a physician in the US Nuclear Program and in business by Stephen R. Covey. You can catch up with Cache teaching EMP survival at survival expos, teaching SERE to ex-pats and vagabonds in South America or getting in some dirt time with the primitive skills crowd in a wilderness near you. His Facebook page is here. Cache Valley Prepper is a pen name used to protect his identity. You can send Cache Valley Prepper a message at editor [at]

Latest comments
  • I do not want to live like a rat. Plus; the United states government has better weapons and armies. I hate the navy seals; they are cowards as far as I am concerned. I know they are nothing but , government robots, who will kill me , women , childre, as well as (Osamabin laden,if it was him; I doubt it was) but, I was in the US army; and I will be alone, act alone if the s. T hits the fan.

    • It sounds like a lonely life

    • And you’ll Die alone

    • Dennis, I surely do feel sorry for you. I don’t want to live like a rat, either, but if it comes down to living like a rat or not living, the choice becomes more obvious to me than it apparently has to you. And Navy Seals … COWARDS? An interesting concept. What metrics do you use to measure cowardice? I mean you no offense, sir, and certainly wouldn’t do anything to deprive you of your opportunity to tell us what your opinions are. While I may not agree with you, I have fought for your right to state your opinion, but I am curious as to what your motivations are. Certainly, you learned in the USArmy that there is strength in numbers. I remember that solo operators are a rarity.


    • Couldn’t agree with you more. Cowards come home, claim they have been defending the country and then get on their welfare ptsd for life. So shameful to break the nation financially and then want someone else to feed them. I’m a veteran too and I sure don’t feel secure with the people we have wearing the uniforms these days. For those that lost limbs, eyes, or badly burned then I will gladly pay taxes to support, the others can crawl up in the fetal position and die as far as I am concerned. Ptsd is welfare period. And the ones getting the jobs with the swat teams and so forth are, u guessed it, veterans perfectly willing to kill children on no knock warrants.

  • That made it very simple, I believe even I could construct this. My question, could you build the exact same thing opposite with the fire between. Would this make it even warmer with the wind shielded on both structures?

    • Thanks for the question Momma Mary. Sure you could as long as you manage airflow. You don’t one of them to fill up with smoke. Many primitive designs do this very well by installing a draft tube or tunnel. As the heat rises from the fire, it pulls fresh air in through the draft tube.

      Modern houses do nothing of the sort. Most are designed as airtight boxes. If you retrofit a modern home with a wood stove or masonry oven, make sure to keep airflow in mind. The greater thermal mass of the masonry or brick ovens holds and radiates heat long after the fire goes out. To further increase efficiency, the channel chimney snakes from side to side. This makes it necessary to install access points for cleaning, but greatly improves efficiency over the traditional fireplace and will save a ton of money or work putting up firewood.

  • Age old tactical axiom: If the Enemy can’t get in, You can’t get out! Many have died in such positions in every war ever fought.

    • Absolutely Old Soldier. Maintaining mobility is paramount.

      Always have covered escape routes, grenade sumps and an escape plan with rally points and cached supplies. Without hidden escape routes bunkers are tombs.

      Thanks for commenting and Thank You for your service!

  • I love it!

    • Thanks Gatorman!

  • Under ground structures are vulnerable to acetelene gas. Easily generated from calcium carbide (used in lamps) and heavier than air. We used huge bombs in VN. I watched from choppers and O-1s as they were dropped on the surface around tunnel complexes You watch a wave of boiling gas spread and then a small surface flash followed by erupting soil from bunkers and covered trenches connecting them. Real tunnels took more of the bombs and did not always crack open but the enemy within were finished.

    • Yes, tunnels have vulnerabilities but were used to great effect in VN. Much of VN had soil that was ideal for building tunnel complexes though and not all places do. Now we are using new generations of thermobaric weapons to great effect, but the older ones essentially turned many complexes into giant deflagrant (low-explosive) bombs. It’s important to have LP/OPs in place and displace while mobility is still an option.

  • There are sure ways to die NOT involving a shelter, Exposure, being caught in the open by an enemy, starvation, carnivorous animal foraging. If you are lucky enough to have time to build a shelter you can also take time to set up a line of defense and set fields of fire In any type of fortification you must have at least two avenues of escape and enough cover in them to get clear with enough firepower to pin down any pursuers. You should also be prepared to remove the threat by destroying the shelter if need be. If you are not able to adapt to the situations presented to you, and dig in and fight to the last grain of salt, you just die.

    • Yeah, last stands make interesting reading but dead is dead. Not much future in dieing unnecessarily or prematurely.

  • I figure it like this:

    One entrance, exit. You just made your grave. Too many entrances, o many for the enemy also.

    Keep it simple, one entrance, one exit. Under a cover where it can’t be seen.

    The first picture I see above is an open target for anyone within a couple miles. The log ends should be covered, the entrance should be covered, with same material as surrounding are, and not that which would die off a short time. If there green stuff, it is a sign something is there. Have a post outside the area, so you can cover the incoming stretch before they get close. Then know if you should escape or hide. The cave/shelter would be for living in, not fighting from.

    • Agreed, Russell.

      I don’t post photos of my places. It is important to maintain good multi-spectral camouflage discipline, LP/OPs and plans to displace. It doesn’t hurt to have preps in place to slow your pursuers down either.

      Thanks for commenting.

  • //Containers lend themselves to the construction of fort or motor court style homes where an inner courtyard can be enclosed by containers arranged in a square instead. Some of my pioneer ancestors built their homes and dugouts in a similar fort style when they colonized the West and made double use of the tactic in route by circling their wagons.

    In fort-style structures, outbuildings extend into the courtyard and fields are cleared and planted outside the forts to afford an unobstructed line of sight and fire and provide a firebreak between the dwellings and forested areas.//

    This type sup now would be a disaster. Any type viable “Fort” would be a target for a helicopter, or drone, with a bomb, missile, or mini Gat to shred. Fighting should be from mobility, where you can change your location in seconds.

    • Sure, bombs will destroy containers, you will get no argument from me there. And I agree that you shouldn’t make it look like a fort. But shipping containers look like … well, shipping containers and with a little creativity, you can make the look like whatever you want. Some very expensive European motor court style home use precisely the same design.

      I train in a complex made of containers and it’s great. You couldn’t burn it down with anything short of thermite and they provide better cover against small arms than the crackerboxes most people live in. Unless it hits stud, even a .22LR will go in the front and out the back of many wood framed homes. I’ve seen containers used to good effect, in fact many of our troops live in them and they are glad to have them.

      If you’ve done something to bring heavy weapons to bear on your retreat it doesn’t matter what it is constructed out of, we can turn it into a glass-floored, self-lighting parking lot. My advice is to not do anything that gets you your own dedicated satellite time or UAV mission and don’t pick a fight with someone who has exponentially more firepower than you do.

      Thanks again for commenting.

  • Forts are death traps, armor, aircraft, artillery or overwhelming numbers of infantry, will turn a fort into a kill zone asap. Small groups , always moving, only at night. Remember there is an eye in the sky. Hit hard hit fast , maximum casualties maximum damage. Make the other guy want to go home, destroy his moral . Hunker down and try to wait it out and you will end up dead or in a FEMA camp. Guerilla warfare, death from a thousand cuts, works on tyrants and superpowers every time.

    • To die is OK, if you have done all you could and you know Jesus as your Saviour.