Call it a cabin-porn addiction, but it seems like a lot of us have the same dream: a cabin of our own, deep in the woods that’s simple, off-the-grid, and far from anyone else. It probably has a porch and a view. Maybe even an outdoor shower.
Sounds pretty nice and, on the dream-scale, pretty attainable. So if you’re going to build a DIY cabin in a remote wilderness area, how do you make it happen?
First, you’re going to need to find a place to build your cabin. Off-the-grid sites tends to be significantly less expensive than land that's connected, which is good news for those who plan to make their own power—or go without.
When he looks at sites, Northern California-based architect David Wright mainly considers solar access because it impacts the natural heating, cooling, ventilation, and day lighting of the building. Wright, who builds net-zero-energy-consuming cabins, also takes steepness and soil condition of the site into account. Both affect how hard construction and maintenance will be. Road access is also important for when you’re schlepping in building materials and preparing to settle in.
Architect Alex Scott Porter designed a 550-square-foot, off-the-grid cabin for her father on an island off the coast of Maine. The getaway takes advantage of the site and its ocean views, and it’s very simple due to its remote location. Porter decided to build the cabin on a grid, making everything square and easy-to-execute.
It’s tempting to get extra creative on the design side, especially if you’re starting from scratch, but simple usually works in your favor, especially if you’re a rookie. If you’re a first time builder, a prefab kit, or pre-designed plans, can make the whole process a lot less complicated. You can find plans and kits for everything from a 100-square-foot tiny house to a huge multi-story building, and prefabs are no longer limited to blocky boring cubes.
David Wright likes structural insulated panels (SIPs) for cabins—especially remote ones—because they’re simple, strong, and they provide included insulation. “This material costs a bit more, but the structural integrity, thermal performance, dry-rot resistance, fire proofing, and lack of ice damming are extremely important when building in the harsh winter climate in the mountains,” says Wright.
Remember: Don’t skimp on the windows—Wright likes metal-clad wooden ones—because you can lose a lot of heat and stability through them.
Porter planned every detail of her dad’s cabin down to the last nail because all of the material had to be brought in by boat. If you’re building somewhere remote, advance planning is crucial. You’ll minimize time lost, frustration, and chances of screwing up.
Here’s where you’re going to have to evaluate your own construction skills—and those of your friends. If you decide to go the true DIY route, you’ll need the help of at least a few helpers to raise the walls and the roof.
It’s a nice (cheap) option, but if you’ve never done it before, you can get into trouble quickly. If you’re a novice builder, Wright recommends talking to a contractor beforehand. They’ll know about building codes, zoning policies, local materials and suppliers, and construction costs.
You also don’t want to harm the landscape you’re trying to cherish. A lot of cabins in sensitive ecological zones are built on piers attached to the bedrock, so the foundation isn’t as high-impact. Once the piers are installed, frame the floor and put up the walls.
Then there’s the roof, which Wright says can be the most important part of the cabin—especially if you’re in a climate that gets a lot of snow. Think about where the snow will slide and collect, and where ice will form before raising the roof.
There are plenty of options for non-grid power, such as generators and micro hydro. But both Wright and Porter champion solar power for its steady, reliable energy. In Porter’s cabin, four 100-watt panels power everything from the water pump to the outlets. “With today’s technology, there’s no need to be tied to conventional utility systems if one has solar access on the site,” Wright says.
Water, for drinking and otherwise, is crucial, and depending on the surroundings, you might have to get creative. Porter’s site didn’t have access to water, so she built a rainwater collection system that includes a gravity-fed filter. Porter’s cabin also has a composting toilet, which is a good option for houses without a sewer. You can buy pre-built ones, or construct your own. Dreaming of an outdoor shower? Solar heaters, or a black rainwater collection barrel, can make that happen pretty easily.
“So how much is this going to cost?” you ask. Frankly, it depends. It’s possible to spend anywhere from $2,000 to $200,000. Material, construction, and land costs differ dramatically. “Cost varies widely, from $275 in California and New York to $95 per square-foot in Oklahoma and Montana,” Wright says. “Double or triple that for high-altitude popular places like Tahoe or Aspen. Typically the cost is whatever the going rate is in your area. Ask realtors and contractors to get an idea.”
It took six pairs of boots, 240 horseshoes, and 24 months for Filipe Leite to ride on horseback from Canada to Brazil. The cowboy traveled 10,000 miles through 10 countries to reach his home in South America, an epic journey that has earned him a spot in the historic Long Rider's Guild, an international association of equestrian explorers that requires its members to ride at least 1,000 continuous miles.
We last caught up with Leite back in 2012, when he was only three states into his journey and about to cross the infamous and treacherous Million Dollar Highway in Colorado. Since then, the cowboy has snuck through jungles full of drug traffickers, ridden bulls, encountered endless bureaucratic obstacles, and experienced unending generosity on the trail. As he nears the final stretch of his journey, we asked him for an update.
OUTSIDE: Aside from countless miserable border crossings, what has been the most difficult part of the ride?
LEITE: Keeping my horses healthy. I have spent 24 hours a day, seven days a week with these animals for the past two years. As we made our way south, we created a bond only comparable to that of father and son. When I didn't have the basics to offer them, like water or a pasture to graze, it broke my heart. We crossed many countries where vets were extremely hard to find and medication for horses even more so. Keeping my animals healthy required me to work extremely hard and become a bit of a vet myself.
This Long Ride has also been full of dangers. We crossed paths with a grizzly in Montana. One of the horses (Bruiser) fell in a deep ditch in New Mexico. The other (Frenchie) was hit by a truck in Southern Mexico, and the third (Dude) walked into a cattle guard in Nicaragua—nearly breaking his leg. I remember having Dude's head on my lap after finally calming him down while he lay there with his front right hoof stuck in that cattle guard thinking I was going to lose him. These were by far the worst moments of the trip. These horses are an extension of my soul; they are my children, my heroes, my everything.
What type of schedule do you maintain to give the horses, and yourself, much-needed rest?
On a Long Ride like mine, there can be no set schedule. You must always listen to your horses and let them rest as they need it. I always try to ride no more than 30 kilometers [nearly 19 miles] daily and allow my ponies to rest for a day or two every four to five days of riding. This has been a good system for us. I have also stopped for a month at times in order to give them ample time to rest or recover from an injury.
Scariest moment of the ride?
Hearing a husband trying to kill his wife with five gunshots just outside my window in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. I will never forget her yells of desperation as the gunfire silenced her pleas.
What about the loneliest moment of the trip?
The loneliest moment of the trip was crossing a mountain in southern Wyoming. I spent several days riding without seeing another human being. It was only the horses and I, and I had an extremely hard time finding water for them. I remember coming down that mountain into a town of 25 people, swallowing my tears. I ended up staying with an elderly gentleman who lives by himself in a ranch home. It's funny how life works out. It was one of the deepest connections I made on the journey.
You've traveled through jungles infested with drug traffickers and passed through dangerous cities. Was there ever a time you've been afraid for your life or the life of your horses?
My entrance into Honduras from Guatemala was with the protection of a major Honduran drug lord. He not only rode with me but also hosted me in his fortress for two days. His house was in a little village in the mountains and sat behind high walls and a thick metal gate. His house was a mansion with plasma TVs, a home gym, and even a small petting zoo. While trying to sleep the first night, I kept imagining the shootouts and killings happening at the hands of the drug cartels in town nearby. Needless to say, it made it hard to get some shut-eye.
You've been posting video segments throughout your journey. Tell us how you film while riding alone, edit footage, and post updates while on the trail?
Filming my Long Ride has been extremely difficult! I have to get off my horse, set up the tripod and turn on the camera, get back on, ride by the camera, then go back to stop filming and fold up the tripod—all while making sure all three horses are watched after. My girlfriend, Emma Brazier, has helped me a lot in this aspect. The moments she has traveled with me, we have been able to capture moments I couldn't otherwise. The dispatches are edited in Nashville by OutWildTV. I'm very thankful for having such an amazing group of professionals behind me. It makes all the difference.
Most of your nights are spent camping in a tent. What key items have made this possible for two years?
My Leatherman is always on my belt. Other items include a one-burner stove for preparing dinner, my MEC Tarn 3 tent, MEC Mirage sleeping bag, and peanut butter. I've also been carrying Naomi's ashes. In Colorado, a gentleman who hosted me asked if I would carry his sister's ashes to Brazil with me. He told me how she loved horses and adventure and had recently passed away. He felt as if faith brought me to his home and that Naomi had to go on one last ride. I have carried Naomi's ashes all the way to Brazil and will spread them in the field where the horses will be retired.
You're trying to pass through the largest rodeo in Latin America, the Festa do Peao de Barretos. Think you'll make it?
Definitely! Because I left from the largest rodeo in Canada, the Calgary Stampede, it has always been my goal to pass through Barretos. This past year, they began sponsoring my trip and are currently building a monument of the horses and I that will be forever in the rodeo grounds for people to visit. On August 23, I will ride into the rodeo's arena as more than 50,000 people watch from the stands. I imagine it will be a very emotional moment.
What are your plans for after you arrive?
I will retire my horses at my parents' farm in Espirito Santo do Pinhal, Sao Paulo, and work on a documentary on my ride. I will also be writing a book on my two-year journey from Canada to Brazil.
Can we expect to see a Journey America documentary from your travel?
Remember thermoelectric energy from high school physics? Neither do I, but you don’t have to be a science geek to appreciate the utility of a device that turns heat into electricity.
And that’s exactly what this on-demand-backcountry-power source does: simply fill with water, place on your camp stove and boil away. Within minutes the BioLite KettleCharge goes to work, stockpiling up to 10 watts of energy via USB port in the orange handle. That’s more than enough juice for mobile phones, tablets, headlamps, or water purifiers.
We know what you’re thinking: what if I forget it’s on the burner like so many Sunday morning omelets? Don’t worry: the LED dashboard (which folds down flat for easy backpack storage) not only lets you know when you have full power, but it also alerts you if the generator is getting too hot.
With a profile like a large hockey puck (eight-inches wide, three-inches tall, and weighing two pounds), it’s safe to say this is the coolest thing to happen to thermoelectrics since, well, the term “thermoelectrics.” Avaliable this September.
Instead of that old-school boombox, consider throwing a powerful water-resistant speaker or high-tech action camera in your beach bag this summer. Check out these six sand- and sun-resistant products guaranteed to make your hot summer nights even more fun:
Go ahead and dive up to 82 feet below the surface with this 12.1-megapixel pocket camera. The tough outer shell can withstand drops on the dock up to 6.5 feet. The killer feature? Perfect for beach-goers, the screen uses a new LCD screen that’s viewable even in direct sunlight.
Don’t dip your toes in the water unless you have the tunes to play in the background. This durable Bluetooth speaker is water- and splash-resistant (not waterproof), plays music at a loud 110 decibels, and connects to your phone or tablet from up to 30 feet away.
This smart short-sleeve shirt has a hidden feature. Although it looks like every other T-shirt you’d wear to the beach, it uses a new Rashguard tech with a UPF 50+ rating for sunblock. The entire line includes long-sleeve shirts, swimming trunks, and surf shirts.
Not every water bottle is beach-ready. Not so the Miir Growler, which uses a unique clamp system that keeps sand and other residue from building up at the lip. The double-insulated shell keeps cold drinks cold for about 24 hours and hot drinks hot for 12 hours.
A few years ago, companies started offering so-called “waterproof” phones. The Kyocera Hydro Vibe actually lives up to the claim—it can be submerged down to 3.28 feet for 30 minutes. The 4.5-inch screen is also crack-resistant and the phone wards off dust and sand.
This Bluetooth headset, which is splash-resistant and durable, comes with a neoprene armband to hold your smartphone on your arm while you lay out at the beach. The headset lets you control music and answer calls with a quick finger press.