Survival Cabin

How to Build a Survival Shelter: A Bug Out Cabin in The Woods

Whether you want to escape to the country when the 9-5 life gets too much, need a holiday retreat in the middle of the woods, or want to prepare a bug-out shelter for if sh-t hits the fan, then a log cabin is ideal for your needs and makes a perfect survival shelter.

They blend in well in any forest environment, resources are readily available to build the cabin (so they cost next to nothing to build), and they can function entirely off grid.

Before we take a look at how to build a survival shelter, let’s look at what exactly a survival shelter is, and some of the reasons you might use one.

What Is a Survival Cabin?

Survival Cabin in the Woods

A survival cabin is a small cabin which you can retreat to, normally in times of need. Life is not always certain, and there may come a day where we need to escape away from the typical on grid life, and survive off grid in the forest.

A few examples include:

  • The grid goes down, including all the electricity, water and gas supplies
  • Too much stress at work and a quick retreat is needed
  • Hunting cabin or quiet place to go and think

If any of the above situations happen, one such way to prepare for an eventuality like this is to build a survival cabin.

A survival cabin is usually a small, very basic building which provides a place to sleep, eat, and stay warm and clean.

You can either build a survival cabin in preparation, or with very basic hand tools, you’d be able to build a small basic cabin in the woods. Before we take a look at how to build a log cabin survival shelter, let’s take a look at the tools you’ll need to build a basic cabin.

What do you need to build a survival log cabin?

Tools required to build a log cabin.

This list is going to look different depending on when you build your cabin. If you’re building with plenty of time to spare, in anticipation of needing a survival shelter, you’ll have access to more tools and resources.

If this is the case, these are the tools you’ll need:

  • Adze
  • Axe
  • Chainsaw
  • Drawknife
  • Hammer
  • Level
  • Log Dog
  • Mallet
  • Peavey
  • Scribe
  • Tape Measure

If you’re building over a short weekend, it’s likely that you won’t have access to many of the tools listed above – that’s OK though.

You can build a full log cabin just like the pioneers did using just an axe. You’ll need a good solid axe head, but what one famous pioneer – Dick Proenneke did, was to carry all the heads of his tools, and chisel handles as and when he needed them.

As well as your tools, you’ll also need a helping hand. Whilst it is possible to build a small log cabin on your own, anything that is large enough to live in will require two people to help lift the logs – they are surprisingly heavy.

If you have plenty of time and want to be a high quality log cabin using trees on your land, you can read about building a cabin in the woods.

In this article, we’re going to look at how to build a very basic survival shelter using minimal tools as quickly as possible.

Step One: Choose a Location

Choosing a Location for Your Cabin

You’ll need to choose a location for your survival shelter which is both hidden away from the general public, but also not too far away from a water source. This could be a river or stream, but you do need to be close to a water source.

Make sure that the land is flat, and any surrounding trees are not dead standing and likely to fall and damages your log cabin.

You might want to consider views and the direction the sun is rising in. Typically most shelters will be in the middle of a forest so sun light won’t be a consideration, however, if it’s not, face the cabin south to maximise the sun’s energy.

Step Two: Choose and Prepare the Logs

Choosing Timber for your Cabin

Usually it is best to choose dry logs over green ones, but given this situation, you won’t have time to dry them.

You’ll need to choose logs that are around 10 inches in diameter and log foot in length. You may get two or even three logs out of each tree that you feel depending on the height of them.

The species of tree that you use will depend on what is available at your spot. The most popular trees used to build log cabins are cedar and spruce.

Choose trees that are straight. To cut them down, drive your axe into the log at knee height. Then make another cut to create a wedge shape. On the opposite side of the log, about 2 inches above the first cut you made, drive the axe in again and the tree should start to fall away from you.

To prepare your logs you’ll need to peel the bark off them, you can do this using the axe and peel the bark off towards you at a 30 degree angle.

You most likely won’t have time to dry the logs out so you’ll have to build with green logs.

Step Three: Build the Walls

Building a Log Cabin Wall

Use the four straightest and longest logs to create a square shape which will form the base of your survival shelter.

If you have time to create a foundation, then you can use vertical posts at the corners and every 6 foot across, which the square base will sit on top of.

Use your axe to make v shaped notches on the underside of each log, to stack them so they sit as close together as possible.

Keep raising the walls until you reach the desired height. An ideal height is about 10-12 foot.

Step Four: Cut the Openings

Making windows and doors for your shelter

You’ll most likely want to keep the amount of openings to a minimum to keep drafts out. It’s advisable to have one window and door.

If you can’t find any handy materials to use for the window, you could make it in a similar fashion to the door, and just have an opening which you can close when it gets too cold.

To make the openings, when you reach the top height of where you want the door or window to be, make a cut all the way down, one log at a time with your axe.

If you don’t have time to make a door or a window, just create a space which is small enough to crawl through so you don’t lose too much heat and to reduce the airflow through the cabin.

Step Five: Lay the Roof

Roofing a Survival Cabin

The last and most tricky step is to lay the roof. This is the most challenging part of the build. You’ll need to build two gable walls (triangular shaped walls) at opposite ends of the cabin. To do this, cut logs which get shorter and shorter in length, and place them one on top of another to create a triangular shape.

When you’re halfway to creating the triangle, take two of the longer logs, and connect the two gable walls, then continue to stack the gable walls until you have a triangular shape. You can then connect the walls again using another log (the ridge log).

Use smaller logs to create a roof rafter, notching each one to keep it in place. You can use leaves, moss or clay from the surrounding area to fill in the gaps between the logs to insulate the cabin; this is known as caulking.


Whilst this cabin will by no means a masterpiece, it will serve its purpose as a survival cabin and provide somewhere to shelter, keep warm and a place to sleep.

If you’re not in a rush and would like to build a log cabin which will be more longstanding and of a higher quality, take the time to dry the logs out and use a more appropriate and enduring material for the roof such as wood shingles, felt shingles or metal sheeting.

Are you considering building your own log cabin, or do you think you’d be capable of building an emergency survival shelter? Let us know in the comment below.

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