10 Cunning Ways Survivalists Can Use Shipping Containers

If you are a survivalist reading this, you are likely interested in new ideas and tools you can use to keep yourself and your family safe for extended periods. There is no shortage of ideas online and no shortage of ingenuity in repurposing everyday objects and structures.

One of the most popular options you might find are the steel shipping containers used to transport goods overseas or by rail. They are large, relatively sturdy, and relatively cheap if you know where to look and what to look for. Therefore, we wanted to focus on them and showcase the many ways one can repurpose them (at least the standard containers) for survivalist purposes. However, even survivalist purposes double as practical use cases, as you know from your other tools and structures.

We could talk ad nauseum about containers themselves and their history, but there are more focused articles for that. Instead, let us look closely at these containers and some potential uses for them.

Properties of a Steel Shipping Container

As most of them are made of corrugated steel, they are relatively sturdy, if not the best looking things you can put on your property (although you can repaint them either for better aesthetics or camouflage to some extent). They are not invincible, but they are likely sturdier than most of the other structures you might put up for the cost, and they can resist fire and most forms of corrosion (though treating them against rust with specialized paint is recommended).

They are adaptable and can be used for a variety of purposes, as you can see below. People already use them for homes, storage, and more, and you can add security for those worried about break-ins and criminal activity. The steel used might be different from container to container, and some might not actually be made out of steel (although this information would be readily available). Most come with flooring of some sort, often made of treated wood. There may also be design features such as forklift pockets that allow for easier transport, but such things likely would not be relevant to your modifications, and they can vary.

These containers are larger than you might think, and as such, you need to keep in mind the dimensions - the standard ISO container is 8ft. wide, 8.5ft. tall, and 20 ft. long. You can buy different-sized containers, but non-standard sizes might be harder to come by or more expensive. Most of the recommendations you will see below can probably be applied to larger containers, but the smaller 10' containers might not be large enough to be a good fit outside of basic storage.

However, with all the variations mentioned above, we are also mostly going to be talking about standard shipping containers here, if only because they are the most customizable and most readily available. While you might have a use for insulated containers, we find that they are more for specialized industrial use. If you know exactly what you want to do with a specialized container, by all means, go ahead. Just be careful about the potential drawbacks and difficulties with customization.

10 Great Potential Uses

While these are not all the ways you could use a steel shipping container, they cover many of the basic needs and thoughts that a survivalist might have. Feel free to mix and match these ideas (maybe you want a small garden and cooking station) or customize them to your heart's content. We are confident that you are going to do so anyway!

1. A Secure Place for Supplies

Given that they are built with storage in mind, your first thought as a survivalist might be, "I can store all my extra supplies in there." That would make absolute sense and be the most straightforward use of a storage container. With this investment (they are likely only a few thousand dollars, and you might be able to get a lucky deal for a cheaper one), you will be able to give yourself much more space to work with and safely store all your supplies.

While not perfect, a storage container will be a better option than merely storing supplies outside or in a shed. You can install shelves and racks as needed and even install more protective storage devices inside the shipping container. However you want to organize things, you will have the freedom and ability to do so.

2. A Tool Storage Shed

You might want to instead use the shipping container as a tool and equipment storage shed. Do you have a lot of tools that might be hard to fit in the garage or bunker? Or do you want more space to organize them? And perform maintenance? Perhaps you want a secure space near your outdoor work area that you can place anywhere you would like. In any case, a shipping container can be adapted to your needs, keeping your tools dry, secure, and well-organized.

To better fit the container for these purposes, you might want to install tool racks and some shelving that will allow you to get in, get what you need, and get out. While you will not always enter the shed in a state of emergency, you will be thankful for the organization should you need the tool in a hurry.

Considering the value of many tools, this is another case in which we recommend investing in an upgraded lock or security system for your shipping container, both of which are readily available. This measure also helps with safety if you have family members (younger children) who might not understand how dangerous some tools can be.

3. As a General Workshop

Do you have hard work you want to do but want to keep it out of the house or away from other people? Perhaps welding metal together, working on your guns, or putting together other protective measures for your home? You need a space for these things, and using a repurposed shipping container can be a great idea. No one will care if sawdust or wood shavings are on the container floor, and there is usually enough free indoor space in them for most tasks.

Note that depending on the type of workshop you want to create, you should try to modify the container appropriately or find a prefabricated container close to what you have in mind. Shipping containers are by default not well lit or ventilated, so you will want to address that. You also might need to work electricity into the area and make sure that you are keeping things safe.

4. Equipment or Vehicle Storage

A storage container is certainly large enough to hold smaller vehicles or larger pieces of equipment. An all-terrain vehicle, snowblower, ridable lawnmower, and more are all container compatible. For example, if you are up north in a snowy area, you might be able to store your snowmobile in the shipping container along with any needed gear, keeping it safe and easy to access when necessary.

It might be a tight squeeze for vehicles, and it will depend partially on the vehicle and the container. Smaller containers will not fit a Hummer or large vehicles, but a smaller Jeep might fit without much issue. A storage container can also house spare tires, parts, or tools so that you can keep your vehicle or equipment running in a survivalist situation. When possible, having some extra things safely stored can never hurt, especially those unlikely to decay or lessen in effectiveness over time.

Like other uses involving expensive goods and equipment, this is another situation where we would recommend using additional security measures beyond what the container offers.

5. As a Backup Home or Bunker

Your home is not immune to damage, which is part of the reason you are focused on making survival plans. At any point, something terrible could happen to it, leaving you and your family scrambling for a roof over your head. While insurance, family, or friends can help in a civilized world, your options will be a bit more limited during a survival situation, specifically limited to what you can reach on foot.

For this reason, you might want to consider using a steel shipping container or two as a backup home or even a more solid bunker to keep your family safe during more difficult times. It might be a bit cramped, but you will be more secure, and you will have some space to work out your next steps. You can even get a pre-modified container designed to effectively be a tiny house or office if protection from attackers is not your first priority. After that, you will need to decide how much, if anything, to invest in things such as power, plumbing, and more.

We should note that a shipping container by itself will probably not be sturdy enough to fend off most attackers. While the containers are corrugated steel, they are not bulletproof (unless adapted), and someone determined and strong enough could break-in. We would recommend reinforcing it if you decide to go down this route.

6. As an Underground Shelter

You might have seen a steel shipping container used as the base for an underground bunker or shelter. Containers can be cheap compared to custom-building a shelter, and they can be relatively quick to install if you feel that time is of the essence. Like a traditional shelter, you will need space and time to work with it, but it could pay off in a survival situation.

However, despite being included on this list and being used for many underground shelters, you should be aware that there are some serious complications and drawbacks to simply burying a steel shipping container, adding some extra functions, and calling it a day. Most containers are not meant to withstand the stress involved in being put underground, whether from the weight above or from the sides. While containers can stack and handle some abuse, they will bend and buckle under the right circumstances, which you do not want in any situation, much less a survival one.

Additionally, the containers can be small for more than one or two people, especially underground, with no expectation of going above ground for a while. How much space do you need to live, given that you will presumably keeping supplies down there as well? Is such a shelter a worthwhile investment of your resources?

Regardless of your choice, you will need to plan carefully. We recommend checking online guides for this or getting outside professional help.

7. As a Crafting Shed

While your definition of a crafting shed might not be too far off from a workshop, if you want a clear place with fewer tools, you can convert a shipping container into a crafting shed until you need it for a more critical survivalist purpose. Whether it involves leatherworking, light woodworking or whittling, bookbinding, or something else entirely, a shipping container can help keep the crafting mess outside of your home and contained elsewhere.

With extra storage, you can also invest more in the raw materials alongside the workspace itself, perhaps get that wholesale discount you have wanted for so long. You will have the additional storage space that is not your living room or your already overburdened garage. We are confident you will have a vision for your craft of choice and a potential layout. Just be sure you can easily install all the tools and furnishings you need to, and that if you wish, you can reconvert the space on a dime if necessary.

8. As Space for an Indoor Garden

Getting into hydroponics is an excellent idea for any survivalist. Perhaps you are already into it, growing your favorite vegetables all year round. As quite a few people, survivalists or otherwise, have found out, shipping containers are great for hydroponics, allowing for enough space at a low cost to create a small setup.

You will need to make sure you have the tools and tech needed to give the shipping container (or containers, if you are feeling ambitious) the environmental controls necessary for an indoor garden. This includes the systems required for temperature control (probably the hardest), water, and maintaining good air quality. If you are experienced in hydroponics already, you probably know what to do. If you want to get into it, you might want to read a few guides before making the investment.

If you feel especially industrious, you can see if you can convert a shipping container into a small greenhouse of sorts. Just know it's likely to be a big project, and a traditional greenhouse might be a more straightforward and cheaper option. If you know that sunlight will not be an issue, you might also use a shipping container like a typical garden; it can certainly help keep animals out.

9. As a Food Preparation Area

Well, now that you have grown some food using your indoor garden, why not pickle or process the fruits of your labor into something that will last for the long haul?

The inside of your home might not be the best place to field dress a deer or process whatever you find out in the woods. While you might already have a setup for such needs, moving that to a shipping container can be a nice touch, and with the extra space, you might find the excuse to upgrade your setup or buy some more equipment. Even having more space for jars can make a world of difference. While it might not be the same as your kitchen, travel ranges and cooking gear exist and can prove helpful.

Still, even in a survival situation, you will want to make sure that you can keep the area as clean as possible. We recommend having the proper sanitation tools and solutions in the container. The container also makes for an excellent shelter for those activities, but it is not inherently sterile by any means.

If you have access to a reliable generator and are willing to invest the money, there are refrigerated containers that you can buy that will keep food fresh for longer. Still, unless you have a large budget, a lot of food, and a lot of mouths to feed for a long time, you are better off spending the money on a more reliable generator, fuel, and a chest freezer or two.

Depending on what you make and how large of a container you have, it can double as both a food preparation area and a storage area. If you feel like running power to the container, the possibilities go even further.

10. As A Bedroom

Keeping a spare bedroom within the confines of a shipping container might also be a good idea in those situations where you want to keep someone safe but separate. Maybe you need to quarantine them, or you want to keep them out of your home and shelter proper. Alternatively, it can work when there is simply no room in your home or shelter.

Setting it up is not that much different from setting up a spare bedroom within your home, outside of the lack of power and plumbing. If you use it for regular guests, your more people-adverse visitors will appreciate it, and many will like the novelty of sleeping in a cozy container. You, on the other hand, can also enjoy the privacy. Just get some furniture and lighting to set things up, and you should be good to go.

While some of the arrangements above might sound like a lot, you can remember that you are unlikely to be using the spare bedroom all of the time and can keep it closed off when not in use, unlikely to be touched by the elements (although airing it out every once in a while would be wise). If getting power or extra supplies is difficult in an emergency, the spare bedroom is unlikely to be a priority anyway.

Using Multiple Containers

We would like to note that using multiple shipping containers placed nearby or together can make many of the above ideas work much more effectively. It is not the most comfortable living situation, but a secured and outfitted shipping container can shield you and your family from the elements. Several containers can and have been turned into working homes, able to keep people going for years on end, requiring as much maintenance as any other place. A shelter consisting of multiple containers will hold more items and accommodate plumbing and electricity more easily.

Even workshops could use more space, and you may be able to get more projects going simultaneously. It will be up to you, but keep the potential benefits in mind, as ordering more than one container at a time might help to keep costs low, if only for shipping (though this can vary by company).

Also, if you work with multiple containers in mind, you might want to look into ways of keeping containers together so that you do not have to go outside to move between them. This is important in certain situations where going outside for even a short while can be a danger. This can also increase your endeavors' cost and bring with it its own challenges compared to merely placing the containers on your property.

Securing Your Container

The base shipping container itself might have a lock or basic security measures, though they would not be enough for most survivalists such as yourself. Instead, you will want to defend it like it was a part of your home, and in some cases, it will directly be a part of your home, especially if the container is kept close. The base defenses might not be enough. Instead, we would recommend the following for your container, depending on what you have planned for it:

  • There are specific locks designed for steel shipping containers. They are strong enough that criminals or marauders would have a better chance simply trying to cut into the side of the container. Naturally, you would either need to keep the key or the combination safe. If you install a standard door onto the container, make sure you can get strong and working locks installed.
  • There are alarm systems that you can install. While remarkably effective, there is the problem that you need to make sure they are supplied with power (either a direct connection or a reliable battery) so that they go off.
  • Depending on where you place it, other security measures on your property, such as heavy fencing, might be your main line of defense for your repurposed shipping container.
  • As you well know, keeping something hidden from prying eyes might be the best form of security. No one can steal from or harm a container that they do not know about, although this might be impossible depending on the nature of your property.
  • You can install a camera on or near your container, but again power could become a problem.
  • While not related to keeping it safe from human threats, nature has a mind of its own. Most animals will not cause your steel shipping container problems outside of infestation if not properly sealed, but the elements are another matter. Ensure your container is treated well for the conditions you live in and that there are no weaknesses that could be exploited by the rain, snow, or worse.


Whatever the state of the environment, the country, or civilization, you want to be prepared for the worst so you can keep yourself and your family safe and ideally in some degree of comfort. There are many potential uses even beyond what we have mentioned, and we are sure that your ingenuity will come up with more. With your survivalist mindset, we are confident you will create something helpful in even the direst of situations.