A new American dream: A look at one couple's off-grid lifestyle in the American Redoubt

For some, it's the new American dream — moving to the Pacific Northwest and living off the land. Unplugging from the modern world while waiting and preparing for economic, political and environmental disasters. Hoping for the best and preparing for the worst — this is life in the American Redoubt.

Hoping for the best and preparing for the worst in the woods of Idaho

Jean Olson in the kitchen of her remote cabin in northern Idaho (Erin Collins/CBC)

Jean Olson has been living her own version of the American dream for the past 23 years.

She bought her 10 acres of land in the hills of Bonner County, Idaho, for just over $40,000. Included in the price was a working well and a partially finished A-frame cabin with no heat or electricity.

She's been living off the grid and loving it ever since. She's unplugged from the hustle and bustle of the modern world and works just a dozen hours a week, gardening and cleaning homes, to make ends meet. 

"I have lived without power for 23 years, I do have solar within the last seven years. I refuse to be collared by the idea that I can't have something because I have no money, so I find ways to create it from nothing."

Take a tour of an off-grid cabin in the American Redoubt

6 years ago
Duration 6:24
A tour of an off-grid cabin in Bonner County, Idaho.

Cutting costs and living a more sustainable lifestyle are the big reasons Olson decided to live in such a remote spot in the Pacific Northwest, a region that's become the home of choice for many folks who believe in self-reliance and being prepared for disasters, both natural and man-made.

In fact, this movement has a name, the American Redoubt, and its map includes Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and parts of eastern Washington and Oregon.

Its members hope for the best but prepare for the worst.

Variety of concerns

Olson, for example, says she's worried about the changes she's noticed with the weather.

"We have had these two hurricane-level winds that we haven't seen in 20 years, we have had a drought for the last five years you know, the well water is affected."

But she feels she's best prepared to meet those challenges here in the Redoubt, where she's used to dealing with the elements and producing much of her own food and water.

Her fiancé Glen Martin's concerns are also green in nature, but they have little to do with the environment. Martin believes Americans and their government have borrowed too much money for too long and an economic collapse is imminent.

"The economy is heavy on my list, a big priority, what is happening with our economy and our government, you know what is going to happen with our grocery stores, our chain of supply."

Glen Martin chops wood outside his fiancée's cabin in northern Idaho. (Erin Collins/CBC)

Martin lives with Olson part of the time and believes the couple is best equipped to deal with an economic collapse on this remote property in the woods.

"Living a more self-sufficient lifestyle you kind of prepare for these situations, you either stock up with food or you have food or are raising food, so not quite the concern."

Off the grid but online

And Martin isn't just preparing for a potentially darker future, he's helping others to do the same. His website,, hosts podcasts on everything from canning goods to tips for surviving natural disasters.

Martin says he now has more than 250,000 downloads a month, up from 100,000 just two years ago. He's convinced that's because a growing number of Americans are worried about the future, a sentiment he believes is partly fuelled by the contentious and divisive U.S. presidential election.

"What is going to happen to our economy, what is going to happen after November 9th? It is going to give, it is not a question of if, it is a question of when and I see it coming and I see it coming soon."


Erin Collins

Senior reporter

Erin Collins is an award-winning senior reporter with CBC National News based in Calgary.


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