Bushcraft Underground Shelter – How to Build Primitive Dugouts

by | Oct 2, 2020 | Shelter

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The bushcraft underground shelter is becoming a favorite for survivalists and outdoor enthusiasts. Mainly because of the benefits that it provides. But what does it take to build one of these primitive dugouts?

Benefits of Bushcraft Underground Shelter

Building a bushcraft shelter is already a task in itself. So, why would you want to go through all the extra effort of building your shelter completely underground? There are a few different reasons someone may want to dig out their shelter rather than building it above ground.

Stay Hidden

We’ve already written about building hidden bushcraft shelters. For some, bushcraft may be a fun hobby that makes for a fun weekend getaway. Others enjoy bushcraft because it helps them get back in touch with their primal instincts. 

Then there is the last group.

While you may enjoy getting outside to take a break from your urban living, others take to nature when they have to. If you’re on the run or just looking to enjoy some much needed solitude, a bushcraft underground shelter is a great way to stay off the radar. 

Better Insulation

There’s actually a growing movement centered around efficient earth sheltered homes. The science behind the unique designs show homes built beneath the surface are less susceptible to extreme outdoor wind, temperature, and even sound. From an energy standpoint, you can save a lot on money and materials.

The same concept applies to the bushcraft underground shelter. 

When you’re outdoors, the elements can leave you feeling vulnerable. There are a ton of great tents that are built to withstand high winds. However, if you don’t have one with you, digging out your bushcraft shelter is a great way to protect yourself from extreme weather.

Long-Term Shelter Solution

With the amount of time and effort that goes into underground bushcraft shelters, it’s not an ideal short-term solution. For example, if you only plan on being outdoors for a weekend, just focus on something simple. That way you can maximize your leisure time.

On the other hand, a quickly thrown together shelter isn’t a good idea if you’re extended your stay. 

Underground shelters are a great long-term solution for just about anyone. They are sturdy in design, hold up to the elements, and keep you safe during extreme weather. 

Potential Drawbacks

It wouldn’t be right to just highlight the advantages of bushcraft underground shelters. Are they awesome? We surely think so. But it’s important to understand when and where you should use them, because they aren’t right for everyone, or every scenario.

A Lot More Work

As we alluded to earlier, it takes a lot more effort on your part to build your survival shelter underground. You can’t just tie your tarp between a few trees, roll out your mat and sleep back, and call it a day.

These shelters require planning, careful preparation, digging, coverage, and sometimes even call for reinforcement. While the end result may be an incredible, hidden shelter that keeps you safe, not everyone has the time or energy to get it done.

Not Suitable Everywhere

Have you ever tried digging in a heavily forested area? What about a landscape that’s filled with heavy rocks and boulders?

Digging out a shelter requires you to move a lot of ground. That is made incredibly more difficult when you add in factors like rocks, roots, and stubborn dirt that just won’t budge. Meaning, underground shelters aren’t ideal for every scenario.

Heavy Rainfall or Snow

When built correctly, the bushcraft underground shelters can withstand pretty much anything nature tries to throw your way. If built incorrectly, your shelter may not last nearly as long as you thought it would. Making you shelterless, or worse.

Before taking on this task, scope out the lay of the land and upcoming forecast. If there’s heavy rainfall, your underground shelter is going to need to be sealed properly. Or else, you’ll quickly find yourself in a pool of water. 

Be weary of heavy snowfall in the winter as well. As the snow mounts, it can collapse the roof or coverage of your shelter. In extreme cases, if you have a door that opens upwards, you may find yourself trapped under an avalanche of snow.

How to Build a Bushcraft Shelter Underground

Now that we’ve covered the advantages and disadvantages of your bushcraft underground shelter, it’s time to dive into how to build one yourself. We have a simple five-step guide for you. Follow along, and you’ll find yourself living comfortably below the ground in no time.

Scope Out Surroundings

Before starting any project, building a shelter or fire, it’s always recommended to scope out your surroundings first. By scoping out the area, you’ll get a better understanding of what works in and against your favor.

For an underground shelter, you’ll need to dig. To make your life easier, try to look for an area that isn’t too congested with trees or boulders. Trees have roots, which are difficult to dig around or cut through. Boulders and heavy rocks present the same challenges.

Plan Out Your Design

Once you find your ideal space, the next step is to plan out your design. You really have two options here. The first being to dig straight down, and build an angled roof out of wood. The problem with this design is it requires a lot of digging, as is easily seen from the ground level.

The second design is to find a slanted hill or area that you can use to your advantage. This is the design we recommend when available, because it doesn’t require as much effort on your part, and your bushcraft underground shelter will blend into the natural landscape.

Start Digging

Now the hard part begins. Once you settle on a design, it’s time to start digging. If you are planning on building an underground shelter ahead of time, it will be in your best interest to bring a shovel. If you don’t have one, you can create a makeshift digging stick.

Your diggin process will vary depending on the design you choose. If you’re just digging straight down, it’s time to start moving dirt. If you’re digging into a hill or slant, here’s what to do.

Dig a trench that runs perpendicular to the slant of your hill. Once you’ve dug deep enough so that you can sit up without your head poking over the wall you’ve just created, you can start leveling your shelter out. Essentially, you’ll have created a steep wall that goes against the hill or slant, then you level out the ground you plan on using.

Add Cover

The hard part is over, but that doesn’t mean that your job is done. Having a hole to sleep in doesn’t really count as a shelter, it offers little protection without a proper cover or roof. To complete your bushcraft underground shelter, you’ll need to gather some branches or split wood.

Once you have your branches, use them to cover the area you just dug out. As soon as you have your branches in place, reinforce them with mud, moss, leaves, grass, or anything else that will provide an added layer of protection. 

By doing so, your shelter will protect you from rainfall, snow, sunlight, and all other elements. Additionally, your shelter will be better insulated, and keep you hidden from view.

Final Thoughts

Opting to build a bushcraft underground shelter is no small undertaking. Although it requires more effort and planning on your part, it does a great job of protecting you from the elements. We generally don’t recommend the primitive dugout design for short-term shelter, but if you plan on staying somewhere for a long period of time, this makes for a great option.

Brian Segal

As an outdoor enthusiast, I was drawn to bushcraft at a young age. I constantly find myself trying to learn and improve on my survival skills, and enjoy writing about everything I discover to help pass along to others.

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