Building survival cabins – why, where and how
Building a whole cabin all by yourself or with just one extra pair of hands sounds challenging, doesn’t it? And indeed it is. Hopefully, you’ll never have to do something like this on short notice. As with most other survival situations, however, it’s better to be able to do, and not have to, than to have to, and can’t.
So – survival cabins. What are they, how do they differ from normal cabins, and when should you consider building one?
What is a survival cabin?
Survival cabins are to normal cabins what survival food is to normal food. They are simpler, easier and faster to make, and they’re intended to satisfy your basic survival needs. These can be made exclusively out of wood and other readily available forest materials. They can also be made by a single person but are a better-suited task for at least two people.
In essence, a survival cabin is a type of emergency shelter that you should be able to make if need be. However, it’s rarely something that you would want to live in long-term.
Survival cabins vs standard forest/mountain/wilderness cabins
The basic difference here is that if you have extra time, resources, and help available, you’re likely making just a cabin. If you’re building it for comfort, if it’s well-insulated, and a pleasure to be in – it’s still a standard cabin.
If, however, you’re building it out of necessity and you’re pressed for time – it’s likely better classified as a “survival cabin”.
That being said, a lot of preppers will build standard cabins with the purpose of acting as “survival cabins” if need be. That’s one of the defining features of a prepper – they make things they may not need in preparation for what might happen. We’d still define those cabins as just cabins, however. If you’ve had the time and extra resources to make them however you want to, they’re not built-in survival circumstances. Such a cabin can be made out of brick and stone, it can have a stable foundation, and it can even have furniture and appliances in it.
In this type of a “standard prepper cabin” you can create waste disposal systems and you can stock it up with food and water. You can even lay solar panels on it if you want – with enough time and resources you can make pretty much anything you want.
A survival cabin, on the other hand, is something you can build with just an axe and the trees around you. It’s meant to shield you from the elements as well as from the wildlife around you.
Survival cabins vs other types of emergency survival shelters
If you’re in an emergency survival situation, however, why build a whole cabin? Surely there are other, faster types of shelters you can build instead?
Indeed there are. There are all kinds of lodges, tepees, tarp shelters, and huts you can make instead. Most of them are much smaller, simpler, and faster to make then a cabin. Some don’t even need an axe or other tools to build and can be made with just sticks, stones, and leaves. And, of course – you should always have a survival tent with you anyway.
A survival cabin is a more elaborate but also more effective shelter, however. It’s what you can and should have.
Here are some situations you need a survival cabin:
You need a bigger shelter for you and your family, friends, and/or companions.
You need more/better.
You’re not alone and therefore – you’ll have the extra help to make a better shelter.
Something has happened where you can’t return to civilization.
You’ll have to spend more time in the wilderness.
You need a shelter that’s more effective against the elements.
You need a shelter that can also shield you against unwanted attention from the wildlife around you.
You need a shelter that’s easier to defend.
These are some pretty specific circumstances but they do happen. In many cases, you might be fortunate enough to get by with a simple tent. However, if you need a more comprehensive survival shelter, it’s important to know how to make it.
What tools do you need to make a survival cabin?
Ideally, even in a survival situation, you’ll have at least some extra tools with you to make shelter. It’s doubtful that you’ll have everything you need in a truly dire situation of course. However, there are certain multi-tools designed for survival situations such as survival axes, survival shovels, and others. These are designed specifically to act as multiple tools all in one and to be an easy, lightweight inclusion in a survival backpack.
So, let’s list all the tools you’ll ideally have for a survival cabin. Then we’ll see what’s the bare minimum you can do it with too.
The king of all survival tools, the axe is a must-have. As survival cabins are made almost entirely out of wood, you basically can’t make one without a good axe. Ideally, it’s going to be sharp, heavy, and durable, for better cutting. Although, survival axes are usually lightweight for easier carrying so it likely won’t be perfect.
A shovel can be great for evening out the ground where you want to build your cabin. Plus, its edges can be used for debarking the logs if you lack any of the tools below.
Mallets are usually too heavy to just casually carry in your survival backpack, unfortunately. That’s why most survival axes will have a mallet-like side to their axe head. The mallet is important as it can help you hammer the logs into position as you’re building your cabin.
These can include a spirit level, a chisel, a plumb bob, measuring tape, a log scribe, a carpentry square, and others. As with the mallet, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be carrying such items in your survival backpack. Some, like the chisel or the measuring tape, are sometimes included, however. Chisels are often side tools in multi-tool instruments, for example. If you do know or suspect that you’ll need to build a survival cabin, however, these are easy inclusions in a backpack.
All of the above range from survival must-haves (the axe and the shovel) to unlikely but not unrealistic inclusions in your survival gear. The tools we’ll list below are highly unrealistic for any standard survival gear because they are too specific. However, it’s worth knowing about them. For one, you can take them if you know you’re going to need shelter. But you can also fashion replacement for them with your axe if need be.
The adze is an axe-like tool that’s used for hewing, debarking, and finishing logs. It’s unlikely that you’ll have one with you in a survival situation but it’s worth mentioning anyway.
An even less likely inclusion to your gear would be the peavey. It’s a spear-like poker with second grabbing attachment that can be used to roll logs into position. It’s a very good tool if you’re alone as logs can be very difficult to move for a single person.
A log dog.
The log dog is a simple, metal shaped tool that’s used to keep logs steady while scribing. This tool is used to peel or debark logs. Other elongated metal blades such as saws can be used in an emergency too, however.
In essence, if you’re truly pressed, you can make a whole survival cabin with just an axe and all by yourself. It will be an exceedingly difficult task, however. Having a second pair of hands and at least one or two more tools will be of great help.
The best extra tool to get in addition to the axe will be the mallet or the peavey. And if you have a buddy helping you out – a second axe!
Where should you build a survival cabin?
Ideally, you won’t be in a survival situation and you’ll just be building a cabin. In that case, you’d have to do it on your own private property. Building cabins – whether as a summer home or prepping for survival situations – is not allowed on public land. That’s precisely because then it wouldn’t be classified as “survival shelter”.
If you do need to build a cabin for survival, however, you can build it wherever you need to. In those cases it’s best to keep these factors in mind:
You’ll need to pick a location that’s safe from whatever it is you’re seeking shelter from. Maybe you need to hide from the unpredictable weather conditions, from the dangerous wildlife, or from people. Either way, pick a remote, elevated, and well-protected spot.
Building a foundation for a cabin is hard enough when all you have is a small survival axe. If you have to do it on uneven ground, the task can become near-impossible. That’s why it’s crucial to pick a spot that’s as flat as possible. Having a survival shovel with you is a plus here, of course.
If you’re surviving in a cold climate you’ll need to maximize your shelter’s sun exposure. Locating your cabin somewhere with a nice southern view can help a lot for keeping it warm. On the other hand, if you’re surviving somewhere to the south, you’ll likely want to minimize any sun exposure.
How to build a survival cabin?
We can’t possibly dream to compile a full architectural course in a short internet article. Still, here are the basic pointers you’ll probably want to keep in mind:
Choose dry logs/trees over green ones.
Make sure they’re ~10 inches in diameter and are as uniform in size and width as possible. Cedar and spruce are the most common choice of trees for survival cabins. However, you’ll usually have to work with what you’ve got on the spot. Make sure your logs of choice are also straight and in good condition.
Cut the trees down carefully.
Start cutting at around knee height. Use the axe to create a wedge shape that goes close to or a little beyond the center of the tree. Then, start cutting from the other side of the tree, ~2 inches above the first wedge. This should make the tree fall safely away from you. Then, debark the logs and cut them to your desired length.
Prepare/build the foundation.
For most survival situations you’ll be able to just flatten the ground with your survival shovel. If you have the extra time and resources, however, you can also prep the foundation a bit. You can use flat river stones or logs cut in half along their length (if you have a good saw).
Build the walls.
The walls will be the most basic but time-consuming part of the operation. First, create a square shape of your preferred size with the straightest and longest logs. Then, put vertical posts at the four corners and every 6 feet across the “wall logs”. Keep stacking horizontal logs on top of each other until they start resembling walls. Use the axe to make v-shaped notches on the lower side of each log – this will help them stack firmly on one another.
Cut openings for a door and a window.
You likely won’t have anything resembling hinges for a door and you almost certainly won’t have glass for a window. However, you’ll still need to cut at least one opening for an entrance for your cabin. You can then cover the opening with a door-like board made of several attached logs.
Lay the roof.
The hardest part will be laying the roof. To start, extend two opposing walls above the other two but extend them in triangular rather than square shapes. This is easy enough by simply making sure that each consecutive log is shorter than the previous one. About halfway through your triangles, take two long logs and connect the two triangular (gable) walls. Then, keep building the gable/triangular roof walls until they’re done. In the end, extend another long log between the two points of the triangles. Lastly, use the three long logs you’ve extended between the gable walls as a foundation for your roof. Stack smaller logs for roof rafter, notching them tightly into place. Use leaves, clay, and moss from the surrounding area to insulate the roof (and walls) of your survival cabins.
And that’s about it! If you’ve done everything carefully and diligently, you should now have a nice, secure, and stable shelter. It won’t be your dream summer house but it will do for protecting you against the elements and wildlife.
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