Is This The Best Bug Out Shelter?

best bug out shelter

In my quest to become a hardshell, I’ve stumbled across a few pretty gnarly options for a bug out shelter. Although “bugging out” is clearly not the best option, if/when the time does come, it’s nice to know what’s out there. Here’s one option that I’ve been exploring recently…

ISBUs (What the heck does that stand for?)

ISBU stands for Intermodal Steel Building Unit, basically a fancy name for a steel shipping container. They have been used in all kinds of applications, and as emergency shelters for quite a while now. They’re made of Corten Steel, and extremely rugged. They’re also relatively inexpensive (starting as low as $900), and come in standard sizes of 20′ x 8′ x 8′ or 40′ x 8′ x 8′.


Although it may seem like all steel boxes are created equal, you have several options to go above and beyond with your customizations. Several companies have jumped on the opportunity to construct and sell ready made solutions that come with electrical, lighting, bathrooms, showers, bunkbeds, desks, kitchen equipment, solar and even more.

Or you can always opt to just buy the plain ol box, and build the rest on your own. Either way you toss the dice though, they make a great survival solution.

prefab bug out shelter

If you want your ISBU with some of the finer amenities, you may  be best off going with a pre-built solution. Companies like Global Portable Buildings offer ISBUs with varying degrees of bells and whistles. But in exchange for the amenities and the “one stop shopness” of it, you can expect a healthy price tag.

Upon my inquiry, Global Portable Buildings gave me quotes of 17k and 24k respectively for 20′ and 40′ shipping container homes containing:

  • 110V/ 50 Amp Service electrical system
  • breaker panel
  • light fixtures
  • wall receptacles
  • phone hookup
  • windows
  • entrance door
  • two inches of rigid insulated finished walls/ceiling
  • vinyl floor covering
  • utility room
  • bathroom wall with sliding pocket door
  • toilet
  • shower
  • sink
  • cabinet
  • plumbing
  • and more…

Certainly not as expensive as a house, but not exactly cheap either.

On the other hand, if you can spare the amenities, you can save yourself some serious coin, by just purchasing the container and then making a couple upgrades on your own (such as interior insulation).

A Third Option?

As sort of a middle ground between bare bones and fully loaded, a third option is to hire an architect/contractor who can help you flesh out your shipping container to the level of customization and amenities that you want.

bug out shelter

Be warned though, when it comes to projects like theses, all architects are not created equal. This space is a far cry from high rise hotels, multi-story office buildings or custome residential. Don’t expect every architect to be able to give advice on, or even be familiar with shipping container concepts.

My Questions

I am by no means an expert on the subject yet. But my curiosity is definitely peaked. After doing some digging around online and receiving those quotes from Global Portable Homes, several questions came to mind:

  • How are these shelters connected with outside services (telephone, internet, sewage and wastewater)? Since the website boasts that your shelter can have all these amenities, I’m wondering how it happens. The whole idea is to have the shelter out of harm’s way, not right next door to your 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom house on your cul-de-sac (I emailed Global Portable Homes another time, but am still yet to hear back).
  • What legal red tape is there to putting one of these on a piece of property (not that I always dot every i and cross every t, but it doesn’t hurt to know)?
  • Is there a permitting process for these things to be built?
  • Where can these containers be stored?
  • What are the best sites for your shipping container shelter?
  • What is the best way to transport them to your site?

bug out shelter

Here’s What I’ve Found

If you’re ready to dive in, the following are some resources that I’ve been browsing:

The Greenest Dollar–article all about living in a shipping container, with it’s own little slew of other shipping resources at the end.

Hive Modular–architects of custom shipping container homes. These guys are into high end design. Not quite my end all, be all resource for a good survival shelter, but still very interesting.

Rennaisance Ronin–cool dude who blogs all about shipping container living, has authored a book about it, and has a ton of great advice!

Firmitas–site dedicated to the many uses of shipping containers (primarily housing). Complete with photos, videos, and a slew o links!–official association of Intermodal Steel Building Units and Container Homes. For a fee of $18, you can download CAD drawings and complete sets of plans for ISBU homes.–free CAD drawings of a standard 40′ shipping container shell that can be used as a template for further design.

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  • Renaissance Ronin

    Just a couple of quick tips:

    First – High Cube, High Cube, High Cube! Always use the taller High Cube versions of ISBUs to build anything you’re going to live in, unless you want your wife to tear you a new one… every day for the rest of your life! :)

    Second – Beware the “ISBU Plans” trap. There are many, many different kinds of ISBUs and they are all just a bit different. If you don’t have a set of drawings for YOUR particular box, you may have a surprise in store for you when you get the the Planning office… I’m not kidding.

    Third – This is DIY-able, but it takes a lot of investigation and foresight before you start hacking away at that Corten Skin. Do your homework! :)

    Fourth – Congratulate yourself on thinking out of the box…

    Now go and live in one. You won’t regret it… until things get hard and all your friends show up, thinking you’ll put them up, too! Do yourself a favor and keep your Corten Fallback Cabin a secret… :)


    • The Urbivalist


      Hope you’re not speaking to me from the experience end of the rectum ripper lesson… :-) appreciate the wisdom! And I wish I had coined the phrase “Corten Fallback Cabin.” That’s genius. I’ll definitely be coming to you for a little more info once I decide to quit dipping a toe, in favor of cannonballing in…

  • Container Dave


    i did an internship at

    i can answer some questions for you.

    The outside services aren’t a big Problem.

    for water you may use flexible pipes. if theres no electricity out there there are many good, quiet Generators. Internet may be Satelite, or 3G.

    Store them is easy. there are big places with Containers, it’s cheap.

    Transportation these trucks are the cheapes way

    even 40″ Containers arent a big Problem.



  • airborne

    The best bug out shelter I have ever found is Rigid Tent Systems Basically a building that can be set up anywhere, and comes with all of the amenities for long-term survival. They can come in almost any size and are also highly portable so you can always change locations. So for DIYers like myself it is way easier than ISBU.

    • Urbivalist Dan

      wow, these look incredible! Definitely a better emergency solution than an ISBU. Thanks for passing it along!

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