In times of peace or in times of war, it is often a good idea to keep people out of your space and out of your business. If your home is your castle or in our case our off-grid, secret, fortified BOL, that means you’ll need proper barriers to prevent or at least funnel the movement of trespassers. If all you have is a sign, it is just a recommendation.
Barriers come in all kinds, shapes, sizes and configurations. From natural foliage bent toward defensive use to the latest in man-made counter-entry measures there is a solution for every hut, bunker, house and site.
As long as you have the coin, the elbow grease, or the patience, you’ll be able to improve your property’s fixed site defenses and keep the riff-raff off your lawn.
In this article, we’ll present an overview of defensive barriers for post-SHTF use and examine the employment, ethics and legal responsibilities of such defenses.
Table of Contents
Since pretty much forever ago, mankind has employed barriers to keep out unknowns and hostiles both in peace and in war. In every circumstance, the farther away you can keep someone trying to do you harm or steal your stuff, the better.
In the case of systematic raiding, looting and pillaging, barriers to entry (usually) increase the chances of smash-and-grab crooks will skip your domicile for easier pastures just over yonder.
From the first barricades made of crudely lashed logs and sticks to the most refined metal and synthetic countermeasures employed today, barriers have been a fundamental part of defense since the dawn of conflict.
When attackers are determined to seize a location, or loot its contents, well-designed barriers work to the defender’s advantage by slowing or halting the attackers’ movement, buying more time for the defenders to implement their plans.
Some barriers are designed in such a way to funnel the attackers into a tightly cordoned area or a particular avenue of approach so that they will be either helpless to resist the defenders’ counterattack or easy prey for active defensive mechanisms.
We have all seen in historical epics the besieging force of medieval footmen trying in vain to cross a narrow drawbridge to assault a castle.
While much of this content is not quite accurate (as any serious historian of the time will tell you) the principles of defensive barriers are on full display: a castle’s high walls prevent easy access while the only avenue of approach that does not involve a difficult or impossible climb is the narrow, perilous drawbridge.
The drawbridge is over a deep bit or a water filled moat (alligators optional) and buttressed by a strong gate surrounded by walls and parapets that the defenders use to assail the attackers without remorse cessation or mercy, often in the form of boulders, arrows and boiling oil.
Sheesh, no wonder starving the defenders out was the way to go! In that simple example, you are seeing both types of defensive barrier in action: passive, which does not actively harm an attacker but serves only to keep them out, slow them down or funnel them, and trespasser-activated, which if interacted with or negotiated clumsily will hurt or kill them.
Both have their place in a prepper’s arsenal for SHTF survival, but we’ll need to learn more about them mechanically and ethically (not to mention legally) before we go turning our modest compound in to Barad-dûr.
Legal Beagle and Ethics Committee Stuff
Before we get to the literal point, as much as it pains me to address it again I am afraid I must:
***You Must Consult an Attorney and Follow All Applicable Local, State and Federal Laws Before Installing Any Barrier of Any Kind on Your Property! Neither this author nor this website’s owners, employees, agents or assigns will be liable in any way for the use or misuse of the information presented in this article. This article is presented for information purposes only. ***
In this lawsuit-crazed age of litigation, you can get in trouble for anything that happens on your property, including doing nothing.
Didn’t have a fence? Junior the neighborhood menace fell into your pool or tripped on your sidewalk. Lawsuit.
Built a fence? Too close to property line and Junior twisted his elbow between the risers. Lawsuit. Built a brick wall? Impeded natural drainage and runoff. Lawsuit. And on and on and on, forever.
That’s just mundane perimeter fencing and walls. What about the serious defensive stuff? Shrubs with dagger-like thorns, glass studded walls, fences crowned with bales of razor wire? Spikes, spines and pits? You might be getting into what the law would classify as booby trap territory, which is illegal almost everywhere.
That is something to keep in mind before you set about fortifying a location now. This is not to say that all bets are off when the SHTF, either. Chances are anything that has set you to beefing up the ol’ home security will, in fact, end and things will get back to normal. That means you will probably have to answer for what happened to anyone who had a tussle with your electrified razor wire, or whatever.
Now, if things really, truly do fall apart, then all bets are off and you should do whatever you think is prudent to keep yourself and your family safe. I say all of this to simply warn you that you must know the law and adhere to it if you want to avoid legal entanglements.
You should also think twice, long and hard, before installing any dangerous barriers: the person who gets nabbed by it might be someone who does not deserve it.
Think through all possibilities, mishaps and contingencies before you commit: how might someone encounter this? Is it obviously visible in day-and nighttime? If there is damage or bad weather might it expose passersby to harm?
Could people behind the barrier be harmed by it in the wrong circumstances? Could it hamper our escape in an emergency? Could invaders use it for cover or concealment in a fight or on approach?
You must consider all of the above and more before you set about installing anything more elaborate than a short fence.
Considerations for all Barriers
Barriers of all kinds must be assessed with a critical eye to make sure they are right for your situation, location and lifestyle. Only a holistic approach is worthwhile, since most types of barriers are a commitment in time, appearance and money.
Some are major landscape or structural installations that you will have no hope of erecting in time to fortify in the immediate aftermath of a societal shakeup. Others can be, but typically lack the effectiveness of larger fortifications. At any rate, knowing where given barrier types fit into your protection plan is half the battle.
You should always “red team” a barrier installation, even if it means setting up lightweight, 1:1 size mockups so you can fully take in the pros and cons. Barriers work both ways, one way or another! A wall offers cover and concealment to attacker and defender alike.
Coils of barbed wire or pits will make it harder for you to maneuver out of or away from your central location. A narrow bridge like the example above means anyone coming out of the castle would be funneled along the same killing field as the hapless attackers. You don’t want that shoe to be on the other foot, I promise!
Your objective should always be to afford yourself maximum protection with any barrier installation while doling out maximum delay, denial and pain to an attacker and at the same time minimizing any potential hazards that could bite you in the rear in the wrong situation. This is far from an easy task, but one that you should work diligently on!
Also bear in mind the “optics” of a well-fortified property: what would you think is being kept within a building guarded by double fences topped with razor wire, wide open fields, high walls and reinforced gates and bars on every entry point bigger than a mouse hole? Exactly.
While you won’t necessarily avoid trouble by omitting all of the above, well defended structures do attract attention, and it will be attention that you definitely do not want when the SHTF.
If your property is far, far out in the country or on a seldom traveled road this will probably be less of an issue but you should think twice before installing semi-permanent barriers around your home in the middle of suburbia unless they are well-blended and low-profile to begin with.
Types of Barriers
For ease of planning, I have grouped the following barriers into categories based on where they are situated on a property, generally. Some are immediately next to or even built in to a structure itself. Others form a near perimeter just beyond the walls of the dwelling. Some will fill out the stretch of open terrain that makes up the grounds of a parcel and the last are for the outer perimeter.
There all kinds of barriers for all kinds of jobs, and the following list, while fairly comprehensive, is just a sampling of all that is out there waiting for purchase or fabrication.
I have included my thoughts on pertinent barrier types in each heading.
A staple of horror movie sieges and apocalyptic fiction, the simple nailing of sturdy lumber across doors, windows and other portals affords decent protection against unauthorized and forced entry, good protection against thrown missiles, and is easily accomplished by most preppers given enough time and ample material. The bad news is it affords little to no protection against gunfire and is not the simplest thing to remove without a long prybar.
While comparatively primitive, the cheapness and ease with which this barrier can be installed anywhere there is a need for it makes it a staple for everything from hurricane preparation to riot protection. Any would-be intruder will be making lots of noise trying to get past this in a hurry, alerting you to their intent.
One painless upgrade is replace the nails with screws for even better holding power, though this of course makes it even harder for you to take them down should you need to.
A great barrier to entry you should plan on upgrading all your windows with prior to things turning sour. Window films like Mylar bond on a microscopic level with glass forming a laminated composite material that resists all kinds of damage and will not shatter into pieces like standard non-upgraded glass.
Long popular in hurricane-prone states and well-to-do commercial areas that occasionally see overflow from the crappy parts of town, window films of this type are more accessible and affordable than ever.
The big advantage to window film is that it does not look like anything except, well, glass! You can open and close a window normally with no ill-effects. A crook trying to smash in one of these windows so treated will find himself beating and beating on glass that, while spiderwebbed, is not shattering! This raises a ton of racket, once again, alerting you so you can intervene.
High quality examples of adequate thickness can even offer decent protection against gunfire! A cost-effective and no-profile solution.
Reinforced Door plus Anti-Kick Frame
The heavy exterior doors you get at most big-box home improvement stores are pretty wimpy compared to a properly solid core door made from wood, metal or both.
Installing one of these modern day castle doors at your location and in every exterior portal is mandatory for security’s sake: anything less is too easily broken through assuming the lock, latch and pins are not breached.
A solid exterior door set within high-quality hinges, long screws and a high-quality reinforced lockset will keep all but the most determined person out even when they are trying to kick or force it.
To deal with those minions, installing a Door Devil or similar anti-kick frame will stymie their attempts. A Door Devil works by absorbing and transferring the shock of a kick and light rams to the door frame not the highly vulnerable lockset plate and screws.
Door Devils are affordable, user installable and extremely effective. They also require very little additional movement to open a door equipped with one.
Make sure the first proper point of entry to your dwelling is just another tough nut to crack.
Barriers in this category are those that are emplaced immediately next to your dwelling (or other secured structure) in a bid to repel or slow down intruders who will imminently gain entry otherwise.
Often installed immediately beneath windows, tough, sharp shrubs and other thorn or spine bearing plants can make life difficult for even the most motivated invader. At best, those without backbone or unwilling to pay the butcher’s bill will about face and look for easier prospects. At worst, the racket raised and impedance will buy you more time to escape or respond accordingly.
Best planted beneath windows or alongside doors to remove potential ambush spots for criminal use, defensive shrubs can be used to block, slow or funnel attacker movement. Trust me when I say that the worst of the worst will think twice if they have to tangle with the gnarliest of spiky plants!
Like any natural barrier, you’ll have a little homework to do well before you plunk down cash or plant seeds with the hopes of crafting an impassible natural barricade.
While nearly every biome on earth will support some manner of unpleasantly sharp plant, you cannot mix and match these willy-nilly. You should carefully research what plants are suitable for your region and have the most impressive defensive adaptations.
Some plants, like roses, can certainly cause harm and will tear and scratch at clothing and skin alike, while other plants like Crown of Thorns and gorse pack on positively hateful spines for miles that will inflict serious puncture wounds and ensnare anyone trying to move through them akin to barbed wire.
No matter where you live, you should be quick to check in with your local greenhouse or nursery to inquire about the right species.
Once you have a plant that will work in your neck of the woods, you should double-check that it will cohabitate nicely with any other nearby plant species, perform an appropriate soil test and then fertilize with the applicable supplement to ensure your new barrier will grow strong and quickly.
When it is time to plant, you’ll have a choice to make: you can spend time and effort while saving money if you want to plant a seed, sprout or sapling then wait for it to grow while tending to it or you can spend beaucoup bucks on mature cultivars that are ready to “install” and do their jobs.
Depending on your needs and how many portals you have to guard, this can be quite an expense for a barrier that is comparatively fragile compared to others: plants are living things and require nurturing and protection from pests and parasites. Power tools, fire and other dedicated methods of removal can make short work of them.
These are one “active” defensive measure that is always “on”, and thorns care not the least little bit if they are puncturing a scumbag, your dog or your little niece. While these are among the most attractive and “suburb friendly” barriers, they have risks you should consider.
Gates, Mesh and Bars
A common site on houses and retail establishments in or near higher crime areas, a set of sturdy bars, steel mesh or “decorative” iron gates are time-tested and generally effective methods for preventing unauthorized access and lessening the amount of damage that can be inflicted on a door or window directly.
Like a conventional door, these systems are only as good as their fasteners, and all screws, mounts and the like must be made and installed to a similarly high standard for these to be worth anything.
While any of the above will be pretty resistant to direct attack even by power tools (so long as made from good steel) they will all be breached by a sustained assault.
Excepting the gate, these present the same hazard to a defender as wood planks do, namely that they work both ways: they keep bad guys out and you in! While some window bar sets can be detached reasonably quickly by means of special quick-release fire escape systems, these also weaken the structural integrity of the barrier.
Roll down mesh shutters are a great solution for preventing thrown missiles from busting through doors and windows but are not quite as rugged as fixed bars. Still, their convenience and quick-close capability may make them an option for some residential applications.
Barriers in this category can be used anywhere from the near perimeter all the way to the outer perimeter and anywhere in between. These have applications against both people and vehicles.
Your classic anti-vehicular post, giant flower pot or similarly constructed and emplaced barrier, spaced in such a way to prevent a large vehicle (car or bigger) from moving between them. Bollards must be buried in the ground and made from the strongest reinforced materials in order to withstand a proper ramming attack or dedicated attempt to remove them.
Bollards can take the form of the standard steel-reinforced, domed concrete post designed to halt a vehicle to a “tank trap” style of pointed steel beams buried at an angle to the ground, designed to impale the charging vehicle and destroy its internal components.
Commercial solutions are available but a crafty prepper can fabricate their own from any suitably strong steel spaced according to requirements. Railroad tracks and structural girders made from high tensile strength steel are ideal for the DIY’er. Be sure you pay extra close attention to spacing, height and angle as these will be a major pain to remove once put into place.
AKA crows’ feet. These ingenious and insidious little inventions are ancient, and no less effective today than in eras past. Caltrops consist of little more than wrought or forged metal spikes, four of them, arranged in such a way that no matter how they are thrown or scattered they will land with one spike sticking straight up.
Tough to spot at night, and tougher when you are in a hurry, depending on the size and configuration of the spikes these can cause painful to crippling wounds, and hollow versions work well on vehicles.
Once someone steps on one and falters, stumbles or falls they run the risk of further impalements. Sown in a dense pattern, these can make safe passage a highly time consuming task.
These are helpful for preppers because they are easily sown anywhere at any time and just as easily recovered with a little care and a powerful magnet a pole if made from ferrous metal. One idea is to keep these in your pocket, figuratively speaking, to deploy when you have reason to believe you might face an invasion attempt or assault.
Be warned reader: these fall squarely into the booby trap category in pretty much all situations, and like other spiked barriers discriminate not a bit when it comes to whom treads on them. Dog or horse, friend or foe, finding one of these the fun way, by foot, will cause a serious wound.
Pits, Trenches and Moats
If you have access to heavy excavation equipment, plenty of manpower or just lots of time, digging a trench or moat can make for a great way to slow down intruders. Made too deep to mantle out of easily, and too wide to leap across, would-be invaders will have to resort to going around, bridging across or clumsily and noisily swimming in the case of a moat.
History furnished ample examples of rivers, bogs and lakes serving as first line of defense and defensive impediment for armies all over the world. Even dry, a deep trench or pit can easily channel attackers into a cordon where they will hope to make an all-or-nothing attempt at gaining access to your structure. With foresight and proper foresight, you might be able to dispense with or capture all of them in one go.
Any of the above is another barrier that you’ll have to commit to ahead of time, as there is no way you’ll be installing one in a hurry with anything less than heavy equipment.
If you own or have ready access to such equipment, don’t discount these primitive but effective solutions. Yes, they are stupefyingly ugly if not part of the natural environment and not something you’ll likely be able to get away with in suburbia, but they require almost no upkeep and will work on vehicles and humans alike.
Barriers you should emplace on the fringes of the property you control. Of all the barriers you might emplace to keep people off your property, this category will be the most visible and the most likely to work against you.
Fences, walls, revetment s, hedges and other classifications are all highly conspicuous no matter in what style they are constructed. While a decorative wall might be attractive and still, internally, made to a high enough standard to offer protection from gunfire.
Something like this would not be entirely out of place in a residential neighborhood. A double height chain link fence on the other hand would be. Any wall says the same thing in any language to potential intruders: there is something in there worth protecting.
Good fences make good neighbors. For our purposes, only proper, tall fences are worth anything in this discussion, eight feet tall and higher. Shorter ones will only keep out the honest, unadventurous and the roaming neighborhood dog. Depending on what they are made of, fences may allow you to see past them to a greater or lesser degree.
Chain link fencing affords great visibility, is noisy and reasonably affordable but offers zero ballistic protection and is easily defeated with cutting tools.
Wood plank fencing is decorative and may afford a small degree of visibility between the pickets, enough to discern movement perhaps, but any substantial gaps will defeat the purpose of the fence. Plank fencing is not very durable and individual pickets are easily pried loose or broken.
Fences at their best will make noise and alert defenders that someone is at the perimeter, and slow down attackers as they get close to the dwelling.
When fences don’t send a strong enough message, build a wall. Walls are solid, unlike the majority of fences, and if properly made can afford protection from gunfire as well as vehicles.
The biggest drawback with walls is that you cannot see through them, meaning you’ll need to gain elevation, stick your head past it, or install cameras, mirrors or some other remote viewing apparatus in order to see what is beyond them.
This is a huge drawback when emplacing walls that must be accounted for. Invaders that get right up against the wall will be nominally out of sight and afforded the same protection that the wall offers you.
Even so, walls that are tall enough and strong enough require a determined effort to scale or breach, and that makes them valuable. Even short walls can serve as valuable cover positions from gunfire and will slow down someone trying to cross them, even if it is only momentary.
Walls can be made from almost anything: steel and concrete, timbers, earth. Walls have been around for nearly as long as mankind has, and so long as you have a little know-how, muscle and time, you can erect walls that will serve as valuable defensive enhancements for your location.
Wall Toppers: Spikes, Wire, Glass and Other Defensive Barrier Enhancements
If you really want to say “stay out” in every language, consider topping your walls with defensive enhancements. The most common is barbed wire, but nastier variations include the ever-awful razor wire, old-school embedded shards of broken glass, jagged metal spikes and hooks, or sharpened tines.
All of these serve one primary purpose: to maim and injure anyone who dares cross the top without spending a ton of time to neutralize or destroy the add-on. Some, like barbed and razor wire, can snag and entrap those who try to cross it.
In America, defensive wire is the most commonly employed. Strand barbed wire, while a painful and fiddly obstacle is easily crossed and defeated, especially when atop a short fence. Coiled barbed wire, especially in multiple concentric arrangements, can present a major tangle hazard and has seen service with militaries in just that role for over a century.
Compared to razor wire, barbed wire is fairly simple and safe to deploy.
Razor wire is barbed wire’s vicious, psychotic cousin. Consisting of flimsy “wire” (actually tape or ribbon) laced with sharpened barbs along the entirety, razor wire separates the men from the boys when sorting out who really wants to get out or in.
Razor wire can inflict serious punctures at a terrifying rate if someone becomes entangled in it and is a bear to deploy safely. Both types of wire are noisy when disturbed so long as they are coiled, and this forms another early warning mechanism.
Commonly seen in older cities around the oldest buildings, or sometimes as an ad-hoc defensive add on, broken wine and beer bottles are sometimes seen embedded by cement, epoxy or some other adhesive along the top of brick or stone walls, forming a jagged, multicolored stabbing strip to the unwary or foolish.
While easy to add to an existing wall, glass is easily broken and smashed, and so will not stand up to repeated attacks. The good news is that glass is an abundant resource almost anywhere, and if you are up to the task of handling and gluing the sharp shards or bottle ends you can upgrade any wall wide enough to support it.
Spikes, hooks and tines are another vicious and increasingly common defensive barrier upgrade in some parts of the world.
These can take the form of lance-like straight spikes often interweaved at opposing angles to prevent a nimble trespasser from gaining purchase between them, terribly barbed spikes more akin to arrow heads that, once embedded will force the would-be crosser to pay the toll in flesh or remain in place, or thin, flexible tines that snag and pierce.
No matter what type you choose, these are another adaptation that forces an attacker to spend time dealing with them or risk potentially serious injuries. Once again, you must know exactly what the law says on such defensive utilities before you install them.
Let’s Set These Bad Boys Up!
If you are planning on holing up and bugging in to weather a major SHTF catastrophe or just bugging out to greener pastures make sure are making allowances in your procedures and budget for the installation of barriers before or after it all goes down if you have reason to believe looters, marauders or other groups might be a threat.
All kinds of physical barriers will buy you and those with you much needed time to escape or mount an effective defense while hampering your attackers.
Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.