Building a Survival Retreat on the Cheap

One of the biggest problems with bugging out in the case of an emergency is having a destination to go to. Few of us can afford to buy ourselves a cabin in the woods, as much as we might like to. That leaves us without a secure location that we can use as a survival retreat. While there are a number of ways of handling this situation, the best is still to own a piece of property with a shelter already built on it.

The trick is making such a thing affordable… and that requires thinking outside of the box a little. For the sake of this article, I’m thinking in terms of doing something that can be done for a few thousand dollars or less. While it is always easy to spend more, it can be difficult to spend less.

So, what exactly do we need? Basically, we need some sort of semi-permanent shelter, built on land that we own or at least have the right to use. That part is important, as we don’t want someone bulldozing our shelter down and leaving us with nothing to use. It would also be good to have this shelter located somewhere that most people won’t find, so that it isn’t broken into while we are at our homes.

The other thing we have to take into consideration is resources. Ideally, we’d all like to have a stream at our survival retreat, but that’s not going to be easy to accomplish. Any land you buy, which has water on it or abuts a body of water is going to be extremely expensive. So we’re going to need some other way of coming up with water, such as trucking it in, drilling a well or using rainwater capture.


Let’s start with the land. By and large, purchasing land is expensive; but there are always exceptions. But before you even look at buying land, make sure that you need to. What I mean by that is checking to see if you have family or friends who have land that you can use. Where I live, there are a lot of families which have “ranchos” (small ranches) outside of town. Most of them have been in their families for generations.

If you have a friend or family member who has land outside of town, you can approach them about putting your survival retreat on their land. Granted, not all will be willing to go along with this idea, but you should be able to convince them that working together and forming a survival team would be to both of your benefits. You’ll need to bring something to the table to make it beneficial for them as well, such as your survival skills, but you should be able to work something out.

If you don’t have anyone who has land that you can use, you’ll need to buy some land. I don’t recommend building a survival retreat on public land, because the government could tear down your shelter at any time. That would leave you back at square one.

There is a thing known as “junk land.” That’s what you want to look for. Basically, junk land is land that is not usable for any commercial or agricultural purpose. As such, it’s not worth much. Typically, this land is in the middle of nowhere, not easily accessible by road and without any sort of “services” (electric, phone and water). That makes it more or less ideal for a survival retreat.

Such land can be bought cheap, often for less than $1,000 per acre. You can find this land by doing a little searching on the internet. There are websites that specialize in listing junk land for sale. You can also find it by advertising for it in your local paper; but be specific about what you want, or you will get a whole lot of calls for something other than what you’re looking for.

The Shelter

I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of various cabins that people have built out of scrap or salvaged materials. While that will work and it will be incredibly cheap, it will also require a considerable amount of work on your part to build it. The same can be said for a variety of other homemade shelters, such as a packed dirt home or an underground shelter of some sort.

Another option is a movable, temporary shelter, like a yurt. While a yurt can be a cozy shelter for you and your family, making one is a lot of work. You also need a fair sized trailer or a pickup truck to move it. Personally, I’d rather have something I can set up on site and leave it there.

The easiest way to accomplish that is to buy a used travel trailer. If you are patient and willing to go for an older trailer, I’ve seen them for sale for as little as $1,000 to $2,000. Of course, those are older units, which most likely will need a bit of repair. But once they’ve been gone over, they make a nice, snug shelter.

One of the nice things about using a travel trailer for your survival retreat is that it is already furnished and self-contained. While you probably won’t find one that has solar panels and a rainwater capture system already installed on the roof, it will have plumbing and wiring to go with the furniture. You’ll either need to survive without electricity and running water or you’ll need to find a way of supplying them for yourself. But you’re going to have to do that, no matter what you do.

Finishing the Shelter

I wouldn’t say that just parking a travel trailer on your land is enough. Granted, if that’s all you manage to get done, before a disaster hits, at least you have that. But you’ll want to add to that, to make your survival retreat more livable.

The first thing I would concern myself with is adding water collection and storage, a means of dealing with sewage and some sort of electric power generation. All of this is doable, without spending a lot of money on it.

For starters, you could haul in a bunch of used plastic barrels and fill them with water, giving you some water storage. Adding rainwater capture off the roof of your trailer will give you some way of replenishing that water supply. If you can, drilling a well would be better, but that depends a lot on how close the water table is and the resources you have available to work with.

For sewage, you can build a simple septic system by burying two 55-gallon drums in the ground, the first one slightly higher than the second. The sewage line from your trailer would run into the first, allowing solids to settle there. A four inch PVC pipe running from near the lip of that drum to the second one would allow liquids to overflow to the second drum. Pierced PVC pipe, buried in the ground, could act as your leach field, allowing the water to soak into the ground.

Generating electricity would either mean installing some solar panels or a wind turbine. You can build both of these, cheaper than you can buy them. For solar panels, building your own is about half the cost of buying them.

The only other thing you’ll need to do is to add some sort of storage and stockpile it with equipment and supplies. If the land is sloped or hilly, you can build a root cellar into the side of the hill to use as storage. If it is flat, you might want to consider buying a small shipping container and placing it near your trailer to act as a storage building. That would also provide you with more roof space, to use for either rainwater capture or mounting solar panels.

All in all, you should be able to build this sort of survival retreat fairly cheaply. A lot will depend on how good a handyman you are and how nice you want your retreat to be. But you can easily get it started for just a few thousand dollars, adding to your retreat as time goes on and you have the resources.

Rich Murphy

Rich is a long-time survivalist, having gotten started in his youth, during the latter part of the Cold War. Yet the collapse of the Berlin Wall didn’t put an end to his survival instinct. He has since added military experience and a career as an engineer to his survival knowledge. This has allowed him to design and build his own survival equipment. He is an accomplished author, who has written over 100 books on all aspects of survival.

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