How to Build a Survival Shelter
People build survival shelters for three main reasons. The first is out of necessity: If you can’t get back to your cabin or car and the bad weather is coming in, a solid shelter can literally be the difference between life and death. The second reason is convenience: if you want to go hunting for food or even just some fun in a more remote area and have a better chance of an early morning hunt, building a good overnight shelter out of simple materials is a great way to go. The third reason is fun: It’s a great skill to have, and after you’ve built your first, you’ll keep trying to better it. In this article we’ll look at not only how to build a survival shelter, but also how to make it as secure and as comfortable as possible.
Whether or not you have the extra supplies, the following tips will serve you well in both cases.
- As with most things, the more prepared you are the easier things become. If you are planning on building a shelter during your trip, or if you think there is even a small possibility that you may be outside overnight, pack some essentials. A sheet of lightweight tarp, a bit of strong cordage (or even a ball of string) and a sharp knife will be more than enough to get you set up.
- Choose the right location: Depending on weather conditions, your best choice will either be on a raised mound or in a ditch. If the area you’re in is likely to have rain (or floods), build on a raised mound, if not, build in a ditch as this will cut down on the wind chill.
- Use the surroundings to your advantage: have the entrance to your shelter facing a large rock or thick tree trunk. This will protect you from the elements and can even be used to provide added structural support.
Building with a Tarp
To build a survival shelter with materials, just follow these simple steps:
- Tie one corner of the tarp to your facing tree (see above); make sure it’s not too high up, about three or four feet should be plenty.
- Take the opposite corner of the tarp and stretch it out to make a taught spine along the top. Secure it with a sharp stick (heavy rocks will do but are not ideal). By having the taught spine, this will ensure maximum water runoff and no pooling.
- With the remaining two corners, spread them as wide as you can and secure them. Try to make sure there are a few inches of spare top resting on the ground on either side as you can lay stones on these to stop the wind getting under.
- Inside the shelter, make sure the ground is cleared of any loose nature debris like sticks, stones and snakes.
- Collect lots of thing twigs and lay them out to make a springy mattress. The more sticks you can overlap, the better sleep you’ll have. You can also add layers of leaves for the extra comfort.
- Set your fire just outside the survival shelter with the wind blowing away from you. Radiant heat should help keep you warm whilst still being safe from the flames.
Building with Only the Materials around You
To build a survival shelter using only the materials that you can gather from nearby is a little more tricky, but not impossible. Remember to leave yourself at least two hours of daylight to get this built.
- Clear the area you’re going to build in of any loose stones and sticks.
- Using two study sticks of about three feet each; make a simple A frame shape and tie it together with either cord, boot laces or in a pinch, stripped bark. Rest a long stick (about seven feet) between the crux of the frame and the floor.
- Gather or cut sticks to be used as the ribbing (as in a ribcage). Lay the sticks from the ground up to your frame (remember that the entrance should be facing away from the wind). You should end up with a “sleeping bag shape”. Either lash the sticks in place or balance them well.
- Start building insulation layers: Begin with dry leaves, then wet leaves and finally big lumps of mud. The more you can pack on, the warmer you’ll be. Make sure that there is plenty of insulation material around the base as this will keep out the wind and also any mild rain runoff.
- For your interior insulation, pack the floor out with small thin twigs and as many dry leaves as you can gather. Set your night fire at least a few feet from the entrance.
It may be the case that you’re caught out in the middle of the wilderness with heavy snow cover. If this is the case then obviously using natural resources lying around to build your shelter will not be an option. Instead what you want to be doing is building Quinzee snow shelter. Out of all the shelters this is probably one of the hardest and time-consuming of them all, however, they are probably the most rewarding shelters to build. They can not only be used for getting out of blizzards and high winds, but if built correctly should offer a half-comfortable place to sleep for the night. Before you attempt a snow shelter, take the time to assess the area (if you have the time) and ensure that you’re not in any obvious danger of being crushed from an avalanche or landslide. Also, ensure that you have a small hole in the roof to ensure that carbon monoxide does not get trapped.
As with any outdoor skill, the way to get good at it is to practice before you actually need to do it. Take a day to see how well and insulated you can make a shelter in your back yard. Knowing how long it takes you and how warm it can be will not only give you confidence, but may just save your life!