Dugout Shelters and Pit Houses as Sweet SHTF Survival Housing

Dugout shelters, pit houses, and what are sometimes called “sniper holes”, are sweet SHTF survival shelters in dire situations.  In a SHTF situation you won’t be able to browse the web for log cabins for sale, so this type of temporary housing is a great option.  Because of its simple construction you could build one as part of your preparation or build one while you’re on the move. There is nothing glorious about living in a hole in the ground for a bit, but it works when necessary. Dugouts is one of the oldest types of housing known. Constructing a simple, temporary one is easy:

  1. dig a big hole
  2. reinforce the walls
  3. build a roof over it.

The most basic type, like what the infantry would use, is about that simple. This would be a prime “Holy crap, TEOTWAWKI hit, we need to hole up for a few weeks in the middle of nowhere” shelter.

You need a few good shovels and a pick ax. Find an elevated location or dig into the side of a small hill/slope. Take the soil you dig out of the hole and form small “ridges” around the dugout to direct surface rainwater away from the hole. You can also dig a small trench along the inside walls of the hole that slope downward to a 2’x2’x1′ deep hole that will capture the water for removal by pail or shovel. You’re digging a hole in the ground, drainage is key; like I said, dig into a hill or slope.

If you want it to make a hidey hole, also:

  • Move the soil you dig out so that it’s away from the area and it’s not obvious that someone dug a big hole. Set the top layer of dirt or sod aside so that you can lay it across the roof of your structure, helping it blend in. Excess soil should get moved to some place away from the shelter.
  • Be careful not to disturb surrounding vegetation so the site blends naturally.
  • Beware of using the same path to the shelter all the time or an obvious trail may develop.

You’ll need to retain the walls with something. Properly stacked sandbags will help, use the soil you dig up. Armies have used burlap and chicken wire wrapped around trench walls. You can use any dead trees and branches around you, rocks, sod, etc. Improvise.

If you want something more permanent, you could get a bit fancier, like this dugout home in Pie Town, New Mexico during the Great Depression:

That would make an awesome, CHEAP, SHTF bugout spot. You’ve got a low profile place and earth protection. Here is an inside pic of a Great Depression era dugout house:

I kinda want one, a little hobbit hole.

– Ranger Man

34 comments… add one
  • j.r. guerra in s. tx. June 16, 2011, 8:20 am

    I wish we had more hills around here where I live, the hills have to be bulldozed or back hoed to occur. Earth is said to be a great insulator and temperature extremes can be nullified with it.

    Humidity – thats an entirely different animal. Pity.

    Thanks for the article.

    • Spook45 June 16, 2011, 9:04 am

      RADIATION can also be nullified with it. 8″ of concrete or 18″ of packed dirt are enough half-life to shield against gamma rays and other harmfull radiation.

  • irishdutchuncle June 16, 2011, 9:01 am

    i can dig it. (next best thing to a bunker)

    i’ve been saving-up my pennies, to buy a few more entrenching tools. (i want at least one per vehicle, and another for my G.O.O.D.Y. bag)

  • Spook45 June 16, 2011, 9:02 am

    I LIKE IT! Looks like an old fashioned log stack to me. This is the natural way. No drywall, no chemistry, no synthetic crap just WOOD. I would probly want to freshen it up a little bit with a small wood stove and some solar and indoor plumbing if I could pull it off, but other than that, its SUITE! My brother has taken a port-a-mill and done this twice! Once in Montana and once in Alaska. Im Jealous……

    • irishdutchuncle June 16, 2011, 6:16 pm

      i wouldn’t mind having a couple big pieces of TYVEK, under the sod, for a ceiling. (maybe some cypress or redwood roof boards for moisture resistance) presonally i’d still feel better, under steel-reinforced concrete…

      • Spook45 June 16, 2011, 8:10 pm

        Yea, I think I would likely go with a conventional roof, probly a steel roof. there are some things that modern is better. It would save you tons of work from not having to resod the roof four or five times ayear.

  • Leon June 16, 2011, 9:34 am

    During the Siege of Vicksburg during the Civil War, several thousand people burrowed into the loess hills to avoid the cannon fire. There were whole communities. I saw one of the dugouts – wouldn’t want to live in one for long!

  • Odd Questioner June 16, 2011, 9:56 am

    That is pretty cool, with lots of benefits.

    That said, you’d need more than a shovel to get one in parts of the Ozarks and out here in the Cascades… you’d need dynamite.

    Personally, I’ve figured a hybrid solution to be the best – half earth, half house. This way you get the best of them both, like in the pic up there. :)

  • carl June 16, 2011, 10:22 am

    Take a close look at the two pictures. They are growing thier own food, there are preserved veggies. In picture 2 note that they have plenty on the table. The boy child appears to have eaten darn near everything on his plate and not whined about what he doesn’t like. There is fresh milk. Dad looks like he is slow compared to the kids. These are real people making thier way through life without any government “help” or interferance. God love them.

    • Crazy Stev-o June 16, 2011, 11:38 am

      The pictures above are from the Library of Congress. They were taken during the depression.

    • Odd Questioner June 16, 2011, 12:50 pm

      What Crazy Stev-o said, and with one addition:

      The image was probably posed – either for propaganda purposes, or for the newspaper/magazine that originally took the photo.

      • No ME Preppy June 16, 2011, 7:54 pm

        It was either Life magazine or the FHA that took the photos. The first one wasn’t too posed, maybe just told the girl to go out and weed the garden. the second does seem a little posed. There are only 4 in the family, but there are 7 place settings.

        • Ranger Man June 16, 2011, 8:24 pm

          Yup, there was another picture of this family with all of the children in it, but I didn’t include it, because it wasn’t relevant to the content of the post.

  • Jeff June 16, 2011, 11:22 am

    My wife loves these! She asked me to get started this weekend! She said we needed one with high walls so I should dig the pit at least 7 feet deep! No worries babe!

    She called our insurance agent shortly after we talked too … she must be checking up on how much we’ll save on homeowners coverage for “earth” houses … how thoughtful is that!

    • Jason June 16, 2011, 8:04 pm

      If my wife asked me to start digging a hole 6 feet deep in the backyard for a “future residence”, I would start worrying. Are you sure that call wasn’t to the Life insurance company? Ha, ha.

      The only thing I would not like about these types of homes is the lack of light from windows at waste level – it would seem a bit claustrophobic to me.

    • Ranger Man June 16, 2011, 8:47 pm

      Please document/photograph the process for a SHTFblog post. ;-)

  • j.r. guerra in s. tx. June 16, 2011, 1:46 pm

    Just watch the earth loads upslope if you are located on hillsides, rain soaked earth becomes really heavy and your home can become a tomb pretty quickly.

    Underground construction books are still around. The buried walls usually have a gravel layer between solid wall and earth to allow water to seep down, with the bottom having perforated drain pipe (holes to TOP) to move water away from building. Mike Oehler wrote the $50 AND UP UNDERGROUND HOME years ago, that would be a good place to start learning of this construction.

  • Anonymous June 16, 2011, 2:00 pm

    HI, I’m heavy duty into Prepping what about snakes ? I live in N. Florida. I’m a girl and I’m terrified of snakes, can’t help it. Also, what supplies can I take down there? How long would their shelf life be? I was thinking of using a container about 40ft. long. Any suggestions would be helpful. I’m on ten acres.

    • irishdutchuncle June 16, 2011, 5:49 pm

      how high is your water table?

      (see j.r.’s comment above, about gravel, and perforated drain pipe) we live on a “plateau” outside of Philly. every house around here has, or needs a sump-pump. i’ve had lots of things ruined, over the years, because they weren’t high enough off of the basement floor.

      “containers” are designed for stacking. all of the strength is in the corners, there isn’t enough strength in the roof, or sides for direct burial. your first “underground” structure should probably be a storm shelter, made of precast concrete, or constructed in place. there are FEMA books on saferoom construction, and i thought they were pretty good.

      i don’t know what to say about the snakes…

      your air vents should be screened, to keep out insects.

    • gat31 June 16, 2011, 6:40 pm

      Being a fellow north central Floridian, l understand your snake fear but really only like a few snakes are really harmful here. The cotton mouth,rattler, pigmy rattler and coral snake. The rest are not gonna hurt ya and will actually benefit you by keeping mice and other small rodents away.
      As for shelf life, if you’re burying your supplies, it’s kind of like being in a cave. The temperature doesn’t fluctuate very much so most things will last a good while. Make sure you store any dry goods in plastic containers and maybe those little moisture absorbtion packets to prevent clumping and mold. And hey if it’s gonna be buried, maybe put some dirt in the corner and grow mushrooms.

  • XLB June 16, 2011, 3:12 pm

    I’ve heard of stuff like that whats in the article, but with conex shipping containers instead of wood. In one redneck pic is saw, I guy just buried an old school bus, built shelves in there and stocked it with preps.

  • Jarhead Survivor June 16, 2011, 3:30 pm

    This beats any foxhole I ever dug and I’ve dug a few!

  • ChefBear58 June 16, 2011, 6:06 pm

    A friend of mine built an underground garage out of 2 shipping containers, that he cut one side off of each and welded together. The thing is HUGE! He told me not long after he built it that it cost about $8k to construct, $3.5k for the containers and delivery, $3k to hire a contractor to come out and dig the hole into the hill-side (and cover it back afterward, included some dirt haul-away), and $1.5k for the welder (used)/welding supplies/drain-tile/and other assorted odds-and-ends he needed to complete the job. He also lined the entire 2xcontainer with spray/roll-on bed-liner, so he can just take everything out and hit it with a pressure-washer to clean.

    The set-up works extremely well for a garage, stays cool on the hottest summer days and warm on the coldest winter ones, anyone standing outside can’t hear whats going on inside when the doors are closed, and it’s massive inside! I have seen 2 full-sided trucks pulled into it for motor swaps, with room to work. Its not very plush, but I imagine it would work great for storage or as an emergency shelter… If I had room for one I would build it!

  • gat31 June 16, 2011, 6:28 pm

    I love it! l would love to have one! Now to convince daughter it’s a “boyscout” badge project (though grandson is no longer in scouts)
    There is a piece of property near me for sale that l would dearly love to get. The edge of it has been dug out making a sloping hill out of the rest of it.l think it would be awesome to put a house hidden in the dugout with a tunnel connecting house and hillside to put preps in.
    90,000 for 4.5 acres is just a bit outside my price range though. :( but man is it a great spot!
    l’m curious to how they would asses the value for taxes on a house like that though.

  • Jason June 16, 2011, 8:32 pm

    Here’s another Pie Town house I found:


    Also, this is a bit long but a very interesting article to read that was written during the Great Depression. It talks about how people actually survived. Do you think you could do the same? There is a quote from Hans Landa (Inglorious Basterds movie) that sums things up pretty well & I believe is quite true –

    “I’m aware what tremendous feats human beings are capable of once they abandon dignity. ”


    BTW & a side note – Inglorious Basterds is, in my opinion, probably one of the best written & best acted movies in modern times, just gotta get past some of the gratuitous violence. The acting is truly seamless & flows so well, you do not realize that there are no big named stars except Brad Pitt who is a supporting character.

    • Ranger Man June 16, 2011, 8:48 pm

      Thanks for the constructive comment, Jason. ;-)

  • john-GA June 17, 2011, 12:52 am

    > Prepping what about snakes ?

    A frogging trident with a six foot handle might fit the bill. I would probably weld two more prongs for a total of five so skinny snakes would not get away from between the prongs.

    It would not do any good inside the pit, but, out walking around not only could you kill them, you could eat them if you really had to.

    I have been able to capture up to 1″ wide snakes, including the venomous ones with five gallon buckets and a shovel, but, in a SHTF situation I would want to make sure I did not get bit.

    Best benefit is no noise.

    What you really have to worry about in GA and FL, imho, are the poisonous spiders, followed by the mosquitoes.

  • Judith June 19, 2011, 11:07 am

    I know I am late to the ballgame on this one, but I had to comment on the snakes. My grandmother grew up in a soddy in S.Western Nebr.
    and snakes were a BIG problem getting in. Mothers had no qualms about dispatching them with a hoe. Also my grandma said there was always dirt in everything that they couldn’t keep it out. They used newspapers on the wall and I think she said they put up flour sacks on the ceiling. The one in the picture is pretty nice as far as dugouts go.

  • Dave RN June 20, 2011, 9:03 pm

    Wow look at the milk on the table. I’ll bet it’s raw, sraight from the cow or goat. These days in some areas their biggist worry would be our own government raiding them for having the milk.

  • John Russell July 4, 2011, 7:25 am

    I used this concept, in a small way. I just dug a 3’x3’x9′ hole into a hillside, near the top of the hill, in the middle of a thicket for best concealment. I have about 1′ of dirt/sod/roots over the space, and it is shored up and the entrance is well hidden. There is nothing stored there to attract-keep animals or people. The goodies are stashed in buried drums, arranged in a big circle, each one is out of sight of the next and also out of sight of the dugout. Given all that we will need to know after shtf, a lot of microfiched survival info, a magnifyer and a light source will keep me occupied, out of sight, while the rest of the population kill themselves, dies of disease, etc. I will emerge only at night, and only to get water and dispose of wastes.

  • John Russell July 4, 2011, 7:28 am

    This way, I need not risk a ong trip in a 4 wheeled vehicle, after shtf, and also need not own an expensive, low mileage 4wd vehicle. My food stash is mostly local grains, dried fruit and venison jerky, also obtained locally! :-) I have half a drum full of paraffin wax and plenty of wicks to use in my little candle stove. Almost no flame or smoke, yet I can cook just fine with it. No need to expose myself to gather firewood, and leaves no “sign” that someone is living nearby.

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