> TEOTWAWKI Blog: Bug Out Bag Shelter Discussion



Bug Out Bag Shelter Discussion

Shelter is a pretty good idea for the ol' go bag. Importance is going to vary a bit depending on your environment - urban sprawl is very different from rural Montana. And season will play a role too - more important in cold weather, less so in warm weather. Freezing to death is no fun, and exposure can kill you pretty darn quickly. So, we generally want to look at including some kind of shelter option in our kits.

Before we dive in, it's important to cover off on an idea that many people miss out on: a bug out bag should be built for fast movement towards an area of safety, with capabilities to overcome any obstacles in your way.

An evac is not a camping trip or a backpacking trip--it's not a happy, leisurely thing. You're running for your life. If it's safe for you to be moving, and you have the physical ability to do so, then you should be getting out of dodge, not hanging out bushcrafting or whatever. A lot of people get confused here.

We also often overlook our primary form of transportation - the ol' family bug out vehicle. The BOV will to get us to our safe location faster than on foot, and should only be ditched if absolutely necessary - ambush, utterly impassable roads, out of fuel with no hope of refueling or broken down with no hope of repair. These are the kinds of dire situations that would push us to abandon our vehicles, extra gear and bail out on foot.

This all helps shape our choices for shelter. We should attempt to have something that is:
  • Light and compact enough to allow for fast movement
  • Quick to set up/take down
  • Multipurpose if possible
  • Robust enough to provide life saving shelter in killer weather conditions
  • Subdued color or camouflage pattern
For these reasons, most of us survivalist types tend towards tarps, poncho tarps, and, to a lesser extent bivy bags. You're not going to beat one of these shelters in terms of size/weight, which is an essential.

Setup and take down times on these kinds of shelter can vary, and improve with practice. Bivy bags are mostly just roll out and jump into. Tarps can be a bit trickier. I would not hesitate to add shortcuts like bungie cords to help ease setup - yes, you should know the knots, but if you can save time/effort for a minimal weight savings. Worry more about set up times than about how fancy or perfect of a shelter you can pitch. From packed to under shelter in 5 minutes is a good baseline.

Robustness on tarps and bivy bags is going to vary fairly greatly - I would be cautious about going with too thin/lightweight of material. But, you probably don't need the item to last for months of use - it needs to hold the weather at bay for as long as it takes you to move from your point of danger to your targeted safe zone.

The old USGI poncho used to be the no-brain option, but they are getting scarce and running up in price. Many use the bivy bag from the military sleep system. There are numerous tarp, poncho tarps and bivy bags on the market, though - Go Lite, Seek Outside, Kifaru, SnugPak, Dave Canterbury's Patherfinder School, Bushcraft Outfitters USA and others all have solid options in their product lineups. A green, brown or tan hardware store tarp can work in a pinch, too. Not ideal, but not much money, either.

Unconventional Options
A tarps, poncho tarps or bivy bags are the common answer to the survival shelter problem, and it's a good one. If you need to go really fast and light or find yourself without your kit, here are a couple options to consider:

Go Primitive
Having the tools and know-how to build primitive shelter, ala the Discovery survival TV shows. A fixed blade knife, saw and cordage are go bag staples, and they're all you need to build a variety of primitive shelters that will keep you alive in nasty weather. Throw in an axe and you can do even more. And, these tools are useful for more than just shelter building, too.

This "Bear Grylls" approach has a major downside to it - shelter building is time and calorie intensive, and your time and energy would probably be better spent moving to your final destination. It also exposes you to greater risk of going without shelter - if you're injured, don't have adequate materials, run out of time in the day, etc.

Use Existing Shelter
Most areas of the U.S. are populated and developed - lots of existing buildings and other hidey holes. In a bug out level disaster scenario, a large number of buildings are likely to be completely abandoned -- office buildings, unimportant stores (not many people shop for furniture during the apocalypse), barns and utility buildings and so on. All certainly potential options.

Private residences will be hit-or-miss--hard to determine if they're actually abandoned, potentially deadly if you barge into someone's occupied home by accident. Certainly risky.

The home of a friend or acquaintance would be another matter - if they are home, you may be able to hunker down in the basement or garage for an evening. If they aren't, well, at least they might not shoot you if they show up while you're riding out the storm in their living room.

And, of course, lots of other options - access tunnels, bridges and overpasses, etc. 

Either of the above - primitive shelter or leveraging existing shelter - can also of course be combined with any shelter that you have with you. For example - a tarp can do a considerable amount to reinforce a debris hut or lean-to.

Anyways, quick overview of some of the options that are out there and how to think about your selection when packing shelter for your bail out bag.

What shelter do you carry in your bug out bag? Let us know!


  1. AnonymousMay 10, 2013

    I read this idea about making a poncho into a very shallow hoop cover, using a pair of fiberglass jointed tent poles. Believe it was 'Alpha Rubicon', or something like that. Pretty slick idea.


    So why wouldn't a standard tarp work in same fashion. I would recommend a light canvas tarp, as plastic is EXTREMELY LOUD in the wind Yes, canvas is heavy. This nshelter would take down and put up very quickly.

    Looking forward to the other thoughts and ideas

  2. I carry an oilcloth, always have. Can't beat it for versatility & ease of construction.

    1. aproudinfidelMay 11, 2013

      Great choice. With a little para cord you are in business.

  3. Day TripperMay 10, 2013

    If I were ever in a situation that I had to bug out of my house that I'm hunkered down in and a regular tent wouldn't do, the most optimal set up for my family would be 2 tarps that are camo on one side and reflective on the other, 2 bungees, and a few 10-12ft length paracords, and a reusable emergency blanket. Throw in 2-4 titanium tent stakes and you have a multitude of different ways to build shelter in a pretty light, self-containing package. Shelter could be set up by wrapping the bungees around trees, tying 1 of the paracords between the bungees, and laying down 1 tarp on the ground and draping the other over top the cordage. The other two pre-cut paracords could be snaked through the grommets of the tarps where they meet on the ground and tied off creating a wind resistant barrier with no flaps bouncing around. This would also create a triangle of reflective material all around to reduce the loss of body heat.

    I like this set up too because of the redundancy factor. The tarps can be used for multiple purposes: tent, rain cover for gear, somewhat of a dry bag in certain situations. The bungees could be used to attach sleeping bags and other gear to your BOB during the day. The tent stakes could be sharpened and used as weapons and connected to sticks forming make-shift spears for self-defense or catching food. And the paracord is limitless...securing the dry bag, compressing tarps & sleeping bags, clothes line, snaring, weaponry, etc.

  4. AnonymousMay 11, 2013

    A lot of trolls (or other intellectually deficient types) will be on here mocking zombie apocalypse preppers or whatever, but all the tricks and tips presented here are perfectly valid and useful. Imagine a power outage in your area, or a tornado or fire wiping out your home with no safety net like FEMA (hah!) or the Red Cross or even family to back you up. These are good, solid tips that should be kept in mind just in case. TEOTWAWKI is an acronym I hadn't heard of before today, but one that everyone, even the ones mocking the preppers should keep in mind: SHTF. It may not be zombies, but you need to be ready for it because it can happen to anyone.

  5. A good post by the way, thank you.

  6. Good old blue-ploy-tarp and para-cord. I'm not much of a bug-outter, but I keep a small tarp and some para cord in my car in case I get stuck some where do to earthquake, bad weather, or... The cord and tarp could be used for shelter, gathering water, or an emergency stretcher. In the mean time, they take up next to no space and the tarp is nice to have something to kneel on if you need to change a tire. I've used the para-cord for leashes for a couple of lost dogs, plus all the normal para-cord chores.

  7. aproudinfidelMay 11, 2013

    In a BOB why would you carry more than a poncho and survival blanket/bivvy bag?

    1. Depending on your area, time of year and needs, you might need more. If one lived in, let's say, rural Montana, a poncho and a bivvy bag might not be adequate for survival during winter months.

  8. I plan on going with an AMK escape bivvy once it's available in green. Lightweight, inexpensive, and (somewhat) breathable. Better to go light and fast with as small a profile as possible. If I planned on bugging out through a wilderness environment I'd also add a silynylon tarp as it provides greater shelter.

  9. ECWS sleep system and 2x poncho's. One poncho is to cover up my ruck and gear. The other poncho can be used to make a shelter if I have time/ am staying someplace for awhile or if it is wet but I do not have time to wrap around my sleep system.

    I'm in the market for a nice nylon type tarp these days.

    1. The full sleep system? Or depending on season?

      I have a SnugPak 10x10 tarp that I need to get a review up on. I think you'd like it. Quite nice and large enough for more than one person to sleep under.

  10. I have these two pieces in my BOB that work really well.


    I've used tarps in the past, but I wanted a multicam option, so I went with both of these items. Two is one, one is none...right?

    This company also makes a multi-pak which is not just a pack, but can be used as a shelter and other things. I don't have one, so I can't say one way or the other about it's performance, but it's on my list to get at some point.


    For a sleeping bag, I've got one of these on my list of to get items in the future.


    Thanks to the other posters for their recommendations too!

    1. Nice! I have seen those survival solutions products before - pretty cool. Bushcraft Outfitters also has a variety of tarps in various camo patterns.

    2. AnonymousMay 12, 2013

      Not sure about getting that "Multi-pak"... Seems to me that having to empty my ruck for gear to sleep doesn't qualify for an quick get away in an emergency...

  11. Tactical DaddyMay 12, 2013

    My personal favorite is a hammock with a tarp. I have a "Travel Hammock" from DD-hammocks.


    The travel hammock has a double waterproof base layer so it can double as a tent. In a swampy area? No problem if you can string your hammock up!
    Caught up in New York with no where to sleep safely. No problem! Central Parks Trees have had hammocks stringed up about 25 feet over the ground with no one the wiser!


    You would be hard pressed to find an more versatile and useful shelter, lighter (and defiantly more comfortable!) than most tents. My choice is the hammock!

    1. Agreed...I have an ENO setup with tarp and bugnet. Its extremely light but very strong at the same time.

  12. aproudinfidelMay 12, 2013

    Everything you need to know about making shelter when you are on the move can be found on Reallybigmonkey1's YouTube channel. Dave is an absolute master at bushcraft and how to provide shelter with minimum supplies, i.e. tarps, trash bags etc. Check his channel out.

  13. I highly recommend you try out your shelter option before the need occurs. I have tried several options, including tarps, hammocks, AMK shelter bags, space blankets, sleeping bags, sleeping in a car, GI poncho only, and with poncho liner.

    I'll not share my experience with what works and what does not. You need to figure it out for yourself, as your preferences and environment will be different from mine. But I learned a lot of "bugout" shelter options suck. Some work really well for me. Only by getting out and getting dirty will you know what works and what to carry.

    Great point about 1) looking for alternatives, 2) not sitting around "bushcrafting" while in a true disaster, and 3) the importance of the BOV. Well thought out.