Survival Shelter - Think!
By Steve Gillman
All the various types of survival shelters serve one basic
purpose, and it isn't to have a nice home for the night. Though
there might be some psychological value to certain styles of
construction, and there may rarely be a need for protection from
animals, the primary purpose of a survival shelter is to keep
you from losing body heat. Hypothermia (the lowering of body
temperature) is the single biggest cause of death in a survival
situation, and a shelter prevents this in the following ways.
1. It keeps out the wind.
2. It keeps you from getting wet.
3. It creates space that can be heated by your body heat,
fire or other means.
People with no skills have been known to survive in circumstances
where others with survival knowledge have died. Why is this?
Often it's because of their knowledge or intuition of the principles
involved in survival. It can help to know how to build a lean-to
shelter using natural materials, but it is also possible that
a lost hiker with no skills might be more likely to survive by
burying himself for the night in a pile of dry leaves. He simply
recognizes that it is easier for his body to heat the space under
In other words, understanding the principles involved and
being willing to think is more important than specific skills.
Of course, it's even better if you think, understand and have
specific knowledge and skills to build various survival shelters.
Simple Survival Shelters
Look at what is available, and consider how you can use it.
For example, to block the wind, you can look for a rock to get
behind. A downed tree might also work. A snow cave is great for
keeping out the wind, and a wall of snow blocks can keep the
wind from getting into your tent. Of course, locating your camp
site in the right place makes all the difference in how much
wind you are exposed to.
A shelter that can keep you dry can be very important, especially
if rain or snow is likely. Look around and think of how anything
and everything can be used. A broken canoe might be worthless
for getting you down the river, but it still could be used as
a shelter, or the roof of a shelter. Garbage bags and other plastic
in your backpack might be used as roofing materials. A cave or
overhanging ledge can be a great way to get out of the rain.
Think of the materials around you in terms of how waterproof
they are, and how to use them. Large pieces of birch bark can
be pulled from rotten logs, and layered over a lean-to like shingles
to keep the rain out. Other tree barks might work as well, as
well as cardboard, pieces of a plane, and large leaves.
You can get wet from below as well. A shelter made of snow
blocks will keep the snow from falling on you, but you can get
soaked from the snow underneath. In these cases, or when the
ground is wet, make a small floor of plastic or grass or evergreen
branches. If you have limited materials, try sleeping sitting
up, to decrease the amount of your body that is exposed to the
wet and cold floor.
The amount of space you create in a survival shelter is crucial
if it is cold. Make it too big and the temperature inside will
be the same as outside. You need a small enough space that your
body heat or candle or small fire will be able to heat it. For
example, sleeping in a pile of dry grass with a plastic sheet
spread over it might be more likely to keep you warm than a large
lean-to with a fire in front of it.
Mix and match the various styles of shelters you have seen
or heard of. Look at what you have and get creative. The snow
might not be suitable for an igloo, for example, but could be
used to cover a lean-to made of evergreen boughs, for extra insulation.
A grass or brush-shelter could be build inside a cave, to have
rain protection while reducing the space you need to heat. What
is the ultimate in survival shelters? Whatever works for your
See the page Survival Shelters
for more on specific shelters, including illustrations.