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Friday, March 5, 2010

Keeping a roof over your head while bugging out

Shelter from the elements is one of the primary elements of survival, and one that must be considered in your bug out and survival plans.

In the smaller local/regional disasters that we are most likely to experience, we will likely turn to nearby friends, family or hotels for our shelter. When you look at people hit with these every-day emergencies-- forest fires, floods, storms--these are the places where typically head--friends and family, if available. It doesn't hurt to have a conversation with those friends or family beforehand about your plans. "Hey, if there's some kind of problem that puts us out of our home, can we stay here until the trouble blows over?" You may want to consider caching a few supplies with them, if they have the space and are willing--things like clothes and sleeping bags may be wise.

But, the friends and family only work in a small, personal or local SHTF. We're planning for worst-case here, even the "end of the world" scenarios that this blog is named after. You may be stranded, on foot, several days travel from your retreat or a safe, permanent shelter, with only you bug out bag to get you there safely. How do we prepare for that situation? What should you pack for your TEOTWAWKI shelter?

Using Existing Shelter

If available, existing shelters may be your best bet, especially if weather is bad.

In the urban/suburban environment that most of us live in, opportunities for shelter abound. Homeless people make-do, living under overpasses, in drainage tunnels or abandoned building. You could, too, if needs be. There are plenty of examples out there. Keep an eye out for potential hiding places during your daily travels. Many of these urban shelters have the advantage of being hidden from view, something very important to a solo-survivor or a small group.

One urban/suburban location that I like are rooftops of buildings, weather permitting; make sure that the building is structurally sound, uninhabited and that there are no taller buildings that overlook it. Otherwise, you should be good-to-go. Rooftops have numerous advantages; they provide a clear view of the surrounding area while keeping you out of view or people below. They usually only have one or two entrance points from the building below, meaning that they are easily secured by a small group.  People typically ignore a building's rooftop. And, if it comes to it, a rooftop gives you a superior firing position on attackers from below. 

In a rural environment, you may be able to hunker down in abandoned farms, outbuildings or hunting cabins. Abandoned vehicles may be another readily available shelter. Natural shelter, like caves or rocky overhangs, could also provide some shelter from the elements. 

If you have a pre-planned bugout route (and you should), it's wise to scout it for potential places that you could hunker down for an evening or a few days while on your journey. If you have the resources and can securely do so, it may also be wise to cache some supplies near these hideout sites--backups and supplementary gear in case you need it along your journey.

Packed Shelters

Your bug out bag should some contain some kind of shelter, but you don't need to spend hundreds on an ultra lightweight high-tech tent. I am a big fan of using tarps for bug out shelters; they're cheap--typically under $10 and they're everywhere, which means that they will draw little attention if spotted.

Ponchos are another great option-- Army surplus ponchos can make a fairly decent shelter and can also keep you dry while travelling--not bad, if you ask me. They're cheap, too--I recently purchased two off of e-bay for about $20, shipped.

My bug out bags typically have both an olive drab 8x10 tarp and an army poncho, giving me a variety of shelter options. 

If you want something a little fancier than a hardware store tarp and a poncho, look into sil-nylon tarps; they're used by ultralight hikers and pack down very small. They typically run from $75-$150 when purchased at retail, although if you can find the material and are handy with a sewing machine, you can DIY one for much less.

If space is at a premium, take a look at AMK Heatsheets; they're basically better versions of the standard space blanket--less crinkly material, easier to re-pack, more durable. They're water proof and reflect heat like a standard space blanket. I carry one in my EDC bag; they fit into a pocket and take up negligible space. The blaze orange color is a potential deal-breaker for camo concerns, though. Contractor-grade garbage bags are another compact, low-cost option, and are available in more subdued colors.

Support Gear

Make sure that you have the necessary support gear to set up a proper shelter--cordage is especially important here, and having a few lengths of pre-cut paracord can be a big help. Tent pegs are cheap and very lightweight, saving you the time and effort of making your own. You may also want to consider having some duct tape in your shelter-making supplies--if you needed to set up your lean-to against a brick or concrete wall, for example. 

If you're primarily concerned with surviving in an urban/suburban environment, a FuBar-type tool, wire cutters or lockpicks and the skills to use them could get you into existing structures that would otherwise be out of reach. Of these, in an ideal world, lockpicks would be preferred as they cause no lasting damage when used properly and are silent to employ. However, picking a good lock quickly requires great skill, and lockpicks are illegal to carry around in many jurisdictions, so they are probably impractical for many preppers.

For rural/wilderness survival, you could include a shovel, axe or folding saw. Of these, I think the shovel best fits the typical bug-out mission. Why? A shovel could prove especially useful if you needed to dig up a cache of pre-positioned supplies or if you were looking to create a very concealed foxhole type hide. Digging is time consuming and requires a lot of energy, but a good underground shelter or hideout can be well worth the effort, especially if you're trying to stay out of sight. You can certainly use your hands, knife or stick, but these are poor substitutes for a good compact shovel when needed. 

Axes and folding saws are useful for constructing debris-type shelters--lean-to's and a-frames and such--and in other bushcrafting. The typical bug-out plan involves moving quickly and stealthily to a more secure location; there's not much of a need for bushcrafting tools. Cutting down trees, carving wood and so on are noisy and time consuming. And, if you have a pressing need to do these things, a good fixed blade knife will almost always do the job. 

A final piece of support gear worthy of mention are small, inexpensive personal alarms like this one. Trip the device and a 130dB alarm sounds. You can easily wire these up to a door, across a hallway or in between a pair of trees, giving you some advanced warning or scaring intruders off. Especially useful if you'll be travelling alone or in small groups. I have no experience with the device linked, and I'm shopping around for some of these and will keep you updated. Any recommendations would be appreciated!