Planning Your Bugout Emergency Shelter for Your Homestead

Planning Your Bugout Emergency Shelter for Your Homestead

For most of us, living on our homestead provides a level of peace of mind while allowing us to move to a more independent and self sufficient lifestyle and we might not give that much thought to an emergency shelter.

But all of that can change for a variety of reasons and in a serious breakdown of society or a true SHFT situation occurs – people from the city will instinctively swarm to the country in seek of safety from the urban areas as well as in search of food, supplies and shelter.   This then represents a true threat to anyone living in the country on a homestead or farm – and protecting your supplies and family should be a paramount cornerstone consideration for you.

In the pursuit of homestead security and preparedness, constructing a hidden bug-out or emergency shelter offers an unparalleled peace of mind. This saferoom serves as a last resort—a place of safety away from the main dwelling, completely concealed to avoid detection by invaders or looters.    In this article, I aim to outline the important elements of your shelters design while addressing important considerations including defensive protection, sustainability, efficiency, and ultimate concealment.

The Importance of a Bug Out Emergency Shelter on Your Homestead. 

I am a realist when it comes to a SHTF situation and the measures that desperate people will go to when starving or in need of supplies – whether that be medicine, warmth, water or even drugs and alcohol.  With no Sherriff in town to keep the bad guys in check – it will be open season for anyone with either the will or the desperation to murder for a pack of cigarettes.     Defending your homestead against waive after waive of armed desperate assailants will over time as sure as the sun will rise in the morning, deplete your ammunition, wound or kill your occupants and ultimately end with your homestead being overrun.

This is why I am a proponent of seek shelter and ride things out approach more aligned with gorilla warfare than defensive positioning.   A breakdown in society can come in many forms including that of our own government or an invading force that will highly advanced in their technology and remaining hidden and safe is going to take some real planning.   With that said, the essence of a homestead bug-out shelter lies not just in its function but in its strategic invisibility.

The goal is to create a safe, sustainable refuge that blends seamlessly with its surroundings, ensuring privacy and security without drawing attention. This space is more than a simple hideaway; it’s a meticulously planned, self-sufficient stronghold designed to protect you and your loved ones in times of utmost need where if not already in place come a serious situation, will be far too late to make happen.

The Planning Phase

The foundation of a successful hidden emergency shelter begins with meticulous planning. Choosing a location involves considering accessibility, environmental hazards, and the likelihood of remaining undetected and I am a fan of creating a decoy shelter that is easily overrun to convince invaders that they have found the nest egg while not bothering to look for the real main shelter.  With that said, I am also fond of the idea of keeping supplies in two separate hidden locations so that if one is found and looted, you are not without a back up after they move on.

The design phase should focus on minimizing the shelter’s environmental footprint while maximizing its defensive capabilities and you need to take into account its ability if assaulted to withstand an assault.   It also must be able to hold a minimum of 72 hours, preferably longer if required of supplies while remaining completely hidden with no signs of it’s existence.  This is more than just the naked eye from onsite intruders, but from aerial observation including infrared heat detection from aircraft or satellite monitoring.   I will cover all of these topics in this article in overview and will expand on them through future posts.

Designing Your Hidden Bugout or Emergency Shelter

Your emergency shelter’s design is pivotal. Utilizing durable, yet inconspicuous materials can provide both the strength and stealth needed. Innovations in camouflage, such as earth-covered roofs or naturalistic exteriors, help integrate your shelter into the landscape, while sustainable features ensure long-term viability without outside resources.  Your safest design is that which is below the surface as deep in the ground as possible.  A subterranean shelter has many advantages and makes it far less likely to be found by anyone looking for it.   

My recommendation is that the roof of the shelter is covered with a minimum of 24 inches of soil and preferably 48 inches plus.    Keep in mind though in your design that this amount of soil on top of your shelter has considerable weight.  If our plan is to build a 12×16 foot shelter with 48 inches of soil on top of it, we need to get our calculator out.

To calculate the weight of soil in an area measuring 12×16 feet and four feet deep, we’ll need to know the density of the soil, as this can vary significantly depending on the soil type. For example, the weight of sandy soil will differ from that of clay soil. A common average density for soil is approximately 100 pounds per cubic foot, but this is a very rough average and can vary.

Let’s calculate the volume of the soil first and then use the average density to estimate the weight.

The formula to calculate volume is: Volume = Length × Width × Height


  • Length = 16 feet
  • Width = 12 feet
  • Height (Depth) = 4 feet

After calculating the volume in cubic feet, we’ll multiply by the average density of soil (100 pounds per cubic foot) to estimate the weight. This then means that the volume of soil in the specified area is 768 cubic feet. Given an average soil density of 100 pounds per cubic foot, the soil would weigh approximately 76,800 pounds of weight on top of the structure.  If you go with 24 inches, then you would need to design a structure that would require support of around 38,ooo pounds.  This weight requirement will play a role in how you create your layout in the shelter to support the bearing weight what is above.

48 Inches Provides Adequate Protection Against Artillery Shells

The protection offered by 48 inches (4 feet) of soil and a 10-inch concrete ceiling against a military strike depends on several factors, including the type of munition used in the strike, the angle of impact, and the specific properties of the concrete and soil. Generally, both soil and concrete are effective at absorbing and dissipating energy from blasts, with their protective capabilities varying based on composition and depth.

Soil can provide significant protection against blasts due to its ability to absorb shock waves. The effectiveness of soil as a protective barrier increases with depth. Four feet of soil can offer substantial protection against shrapnel and light blast effects from conventional munitions. However, its effectiveness against direct hits from large, penetrating munitions (such as bunker busters) or precision-guided munitions designed to penetrate deep before detonating would be limited.

Concrete is a standard material for protective structures due to its high compressive strength and ability to withstand significant blast pressures. A 10-inch-thick reinforced concrete ceiling can offer substantial protection against direct hits from smaller munitions and provide a good level of blast resistance. The effectiveness of concrete against military strikes also depends on the quality of the concrete, the presence and quality of reinforcement (rebar), and the construction methods used.

Together, 48 inches of soil topped with a 10-inch concrete ceiling could provide a high level of protection against small to medium conventional munitions, indirect fire (artillery shells), and shrapnel. They would also significantly reduce the blast effects of larger explosives detonating nearby. However, this combination might not guarantee safety against direct hits from large, heavy-penetrating munitions specifically designed to destroy reinforced underground facilities but certainly gives you a much greater level of protection than a simple concealed  emergency shelter.

I would also recommend that you plan your walls to be rebar reinforced 10 inch thick cement along with a 5 inch slab set on 8 inches of wash rock for drainage.  For safety against leaking, I’d also waterproof the exterior with a quality membrane at least 3 mm thick up to the frost line.


With an underground shelter have to plan your ventilation system that should be three stages – one to allow outside are into the shelter with no additional assistance or filtration.   I would then suggest a second stage system that provides for filtered or treated air coming from a second intake source in the case your basic ventilation fails or is plugged.   Finally, and some might consider this overkill, but a self contained oxygen system that can produce enough air for your occupants in a serious lock down situation – while keeping in mind the need to have a method to clear the carbon dioxide created by human breathing.  It is outside the scope of this article to provide full details and documentation of your advanced oxygen system but is worth of your continued research.

Heating Your Emergency Shelter

With the structure being underground, the internal temperature of the unit will be relatively steady but on the cool side for comfortable human occupancy.   Having a heating system capable of at least taking the chill of the air may be desirable in the case of having children or older individuals with you in the bunker.  Having a wood burning system is illogical as the smoke from the fire would be a sure giveaway to those near by or any type of heat seeking monitoring.   With proper ventilation, a temporary method for heating can be done by candle and a terra cotta clay pot that can produce a significant amount of heat from a small candle.  You will need to come up with your own system for heating though based on your shelter size and needs.

Entrance and Escape

The entrance to your shelter must be as hidden and camouflaged as possible while not drawing attention to its location in anyway.  ( For example a camo net over the entrance is a sure notification to someone there is something there worth investigating ).  The entrance should be large enough for a full size adult male to get into reasonably easy as well as to move supplies freely into the space.   For larger items such as furniture, you will need to plan in advance the possibility of putting them in place before the ceiling is put on and covered.  The best method if on your homestead is to put the entrance in the floor of a shed or garage / barn and cover it appropriately.    If out in the bush, a lean-too hinged platform with leaves and brush will make an acceptable concealment.

If possible, a secondary access that can serve as an escape hatch or tunnel provides for added safety in the case of the shelter being compromised.

Emergency Shelter Water Requirements

Water is life—especially in a survival situation. Ensuring an adequate and safe water supply within your hidden bug-out shelter is not just important; it’s essential. For a period of 96 hours, which extends beyond the initial critical 72 hours post-disaster, meticulous planning is required to guarantee that you and your loved ones have enough water to stay hydrated and maintain hygiene.

How Much Water Do You Need?

For each person, the general recommendation is to have at least one gallon of water per day. This quantity covers drinking and minimal hygiene needs. Therefore, for a 96-hour (four-day) period, you would need a minimum of four gallons of water per person. However, considering the variables such as climate, physical exertion, and individual health conditions, it’s wise to plan for more. A safer estimate would be approximately five to six gallons per person for this duration, ensuring a buffer for unforeseen needs or emergencies.

Wastewater and Sewage Management

Here’s a concise approach to handling waste over four days should be your minimal goal for your shelter taking into account the following.

1. Greywater Management: For a 96-hour period, limit greywater production by using water sparingly. Collect greywater from sinks and showers in sealed containers. If feasible, repurpose this for flushing toilets or watering non-edible plants outside the shelter.

2. Blackwater (Sewage) Handling: Employ portable composting toilets designed for short-term use. These units can safely manage human waste without water, minimizing odor and reducing the risk of contamination. Ensure adequate supplies of composting medium, like sawdust or coconut coir, to cover waste after each use.

3. Solid Waste Disposal: Minimize solid waste generation by using reusable items. Segregate any generated waste into biodegradable and non-biodegradable. Store securely to avoid attracting wildlife or creating health hazards.

4. Sanitation Supplies: Stockpile essential sanitation supplies, including biodegradable soap, hand sanitizer, and disinfectants. These are critical for maintaining hygiene and preventing the spread of disease within the confined space of the shelter.

5. Emergency Plan for Waste Disposal: Have a clear, practical plan for disposing of collected greywater and waste post-96 hours or in case of an extended stay. This might involve burying biodegradable waste away from water sources or planning for safe removal from the site.

Food and Supplies for a 96 Hour Shelter

Although your shelter should be used for a secure primary storage facility for long term supplies, you will also want to take into account the needs for your family to survive underground in the shelter for 96 hours.   This also means you will need to take into account means and method to prepare food if required keeping in mind that may be a requirement that no sign of exhaust from a combustible fire can be present particularly in the case of an advanced enemy using heat detection as part of their search methods.     Electri

1. Caloric Intake: An average adult requires about 2,000 to 2,500 calories per day. For 96 hours, this translates to approximately 8,000 to 10,000 calories per person. It’s vital to select foods that are energy-dense and nutrient-rich to meet these caloric needs.

2. Non-Perishable Foods: Opt for non-perishable items that require minimal preparation. Canned goods, dried fruits, nuts, energy bars, and ready-to-eat meals are ideal. These foods are not only long-lasting but also easy to store and consume without cooking, reducing the shelter’s detectability.

3. Water for Preparation: Some non-perishable foods, like dehydrated meals, require water for preparation. Account for this in your water storage plans, ensuring you have enough to both hydrate and cook without compromising your water supply needs for drinking and hygiene.

4. Special Dietary Needs: Consider any dietary restrictions or allergies among shelter occupants. Stocking gluten-free, dairy-free, or nut-free options, for example, ensures everyone’s health and comfort during the stay.

5. Efficient Packaging: Choose foods with compact and lightweight packaging to maximize storage space and minimize waste. Vacuum-sealed meals and foods in zip-lock bags are preferable for keeping a low profile and ensuring easy disposal.

6. Cooking and Eating Utensils: Include a set of reusable utensils, a portable stove (if cooking is necessary and safe to perform), and a small pot. Remember, the goal is to minimize activity that could reveal your shelter’s location, so opt for cold meals or those requiring minimal heating.

7. Rotation and Check-Up: Regularly check and rotate your food supply to ensure nothing is expired or compromised. This is crucial for maintaining a ready-to-use stockpile that can support you for 96 hours at any given time.

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