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Survival Shelters

(Adapted from the U.S. Army Survival Manual)

A shelter can protect you from the sun, insects, wind, rain, snow, and hot or cold temperatures. It can give you a feeling of well-being. It can help you maintain your will to survive.

In some areas, your need for shelter may take precedence over your need for food and possibly even your need for water. For example, prolonged exposure to cold can cause excessive fatigue and weakness (exhaustion). An exhausted person may develop a "passive" outlook, thereby losing the will to survive.

The most common error in making a shelter is to make it too large. A shelter must be large enough to protect you. It must also be small enough to contain your body heat, especially in cold climates.

SHELTER SITE SELECTION

When you are in a survival situation and realize that shelter is a high priority, start looking for shelter as soon as possible. As you do so, remember what you will need at the site. Some requisites are -

It must contain material to make the type of shelter you need.

It must be large enough and level enough for you to lie down comfortably.

It provides protection against wild animals and rocks and dead trees that might fall.

It is free from insects, reptiles, and poisonous plants.

You must also remember the problems that could arise in your environment. For instance -

Avoid flash flood areas in foothills.

Avoid avalanche or rockslide areas in mountainous terrain.

Avoid sites near bodies of water that are below the high water mark.

In some areas, the season of the year has a strong bearing on the site you select. Ideal sites for a shelter differ in winter and summer. During cold winter months you will want a site that will protect you from the cold and wind, but will have a source of fuel and water. During summer months in the same area you will want a source of water, but you will want the site to be almost insect free.

TYPES OF SHELTERS

When looking for a shelter site, keep in mind the type of shelter (protection) you need. However, you must also consider -

How much time and effort you need to build the shelter.

If the shelter will adequately protect you from the elements (sun, wind, rain, snow).

If you have the tools to build it. If not, can you make improvised tools?

If you have the type and amount of materials needed to build it.

To answer these questions, you need to know how to make various types of shelters and what materials you need to make them.

Poncho Lean-To

It takes only a short time and minimal equipment to build this lean-to ( Figure 5-1). You need a poncho, 2 to 3 meters of rope or parachute suspension line, three stakes about 30 centimeters long, and two trees or two poles 2 to 3 meters apart. Before selecting the trees you will use or the location of your poles, check the wind direction. Ensure that the back of your lean-to will be into the wind.

Poncho Lean-To

To make the lean-to -

Tie off the hood of the poncho. Pull the drawstring tight, roll the hood lengthwise, fold it into thirds, and tie it off with the drawstring.

Cut the rope in half. On one long side of the poncho, tie half of the rope to the corner grommet. Tie the other half to the other corner grommet.

Attach a drip stick (about a 10-centimeter stick) to each rope about 2.5 centimeters from the grommet. These drip sticks will keep rainwater from running down the ropes into the lean-to. Tying strings (about 10 centimeters long) to each grommet along the poncho’s top edge will allow the water to run to and down the line without dripping into the shelter.

Tie the ropes about waist high on the trees (uprights). Use a round turn and two half hitches with a quick-release knot.

Spread the poncho and anchor it to the ground, putting sharpened sticks through the grommets and into the ground.

If you plan to use the lean-to for more than one night, or you expect rain, make a center support for the lean-to. Make this support with a line. Attach one end of the line to the poncho hood and the other end to an overhanging branch. Make sure there is no slack in the line.

Another method is to place a stick upright under the center of the lean-to. This method, however, will restrict your space and movements in the shelter.

For additional protection from wind and rain, place some brush, your rucksack, or other equipment at the sides of the lean-to.

To reduce heat loss to the ground, place some type of insulating material, such as leaves or pine needles, inside your lean-to.

Note: When at rest, you lose as much as 80 percent of your body heat to the ground.

To increase your security from enemy observation, lower the lean-to’s silhouette by making two changes. First, secure the support lines to the trees at knee height (not at waist height) using two knee-high sticks in the two center grommets (sides of lean-to). Second, angle the poncho to the ground, securing it with sharpened sticks, as above.

Swamp Bed

In a marsh or swamp, or any area with standing water or continually wet ground, the swamp bed keeps you out of the water. When selecting such a site, consider the weather, wind, tides, and available materials.

To make a swamp bed -

Look for four trees clustered in a rectangle, or cut four poles (bamboo is ideal) and drive them firmly into the ground so they form a rectangle. They should be far enough apart and strong enough to support your height and weight, to include equipment.

Cut two poles that span the width of the rectangle. They, too, must be strong enough to support your weight.

Secure these two poles to the trees (or poles). Be sure they are high enough above the ground or water to allow for tides and high water.

Cut additional poles that span the rectangle’s length. Lay them across the two side poles, and secure them.

Cover the top of the bed frame with broad leaves or grass to form a soft sleeping surface.
Build a fire pad by laying clay, silt, or mud on one comer of the swamp bed and allow it to dry.

Another shelter designed to get you above and out of the water or wet ground uses the same rectangular configuration as the swamp bed. You very simply lay sticks and branches lengthwise on the inside of the trees (or poles) until there is enough material to raise the sleeping surface above the water level.

Natural Shelters

Do not overlook natural formations that provide shelter. Examples are caves, rocky crevices, clumps of bushes, small depressions, large rocks on leeward sides of hills, large trees with low-hanging limbs, and fallen trees with thick branches. However, when selecting a natural formation -

Stay away from low ground such as ravines, narrow valleys, or creek beds. Low areas collect the heavy cold air at night and are therefore colder than the surrounding high ground. Thick, brushy, low ground also harbors more insects.

Check for poisonous snakes, ticks, mites, scorpions, and stinging ants.
Look for loose rocks, dead limbs, coconuts, or other natural growth than could fall on your shelter.

Debris Hut

For warmth and ease of construction, this shelter is one of the best. When shelter is essential to survival, build this shelter.

Making A Debris Hut

To make a debris hut:

Build it by making a tripod with two short stakes and a long ridgepole or by placing one end of a long ridgepole on top of a sturdy base.

Secure the ridgepole (pole running the length of the shelter) using the tripod method or by anchoring it to a tree at about waist height.

Prop large sticks along both sides of the ridgepole to create a wedge-shaped ribbing effect. Ensure the ribbing is wide enough to accommodate your body and steep enough to shed moisture.

Place finer sticks and brush crosswise on the ribbing. These form a latticework that will keep the insulating material (grass, pine needles, leaves) from falling through the ribbing into the sleeping area.

Add light, dry, if possible, soft debris over the ribbing until the insulating material is at least 1 meter thick-the thicker the better.

Place a 30-centimeter layer of insulating material inside the shelter.

At the entrance, pile insulating material that you can drag to you once inside the shelter to close the entrance or build a door.

As a final step in constructing this shelter, add shingling material or branches on top of the debris layer to prevent the insulating material from blowing away in a storm.

Tree-Pit Snow Shelter

If you are in a cold, snow-covered area where evergreen trees grow and you have a digging tool, you can make a tree-pit shelter.

Tree Pit Snow Shelter

To make this shelter -

Find a tree with bushy branches that provides overhead cover.

Dig out the snow around the tree trunk until you reach the depth and diameter you desire, or until you reach the ground.

Pack the snow around the top and the inside of the hole to provide support.

Find and cut other evergreen boughs. Place them over the top of the pit to give you additional overhead cover. Place evergreen boughs in the bottom of the pit for insulation.

Beach Shade Shelter

This shelter protects you from the sun, wind, rain, and heat. It is easy to make using natural materials.

To make these survival shelters -

Find and collect driftwood or other natural material to use as support beams and as a digging tool.

Select a site that is above the high water mark.

Scrape or dig out a trench running north to south so that it receives the least amount of sunlight. Make the trench long and wide enough for you to lie down comfortably.

Mound soil on three sides of the trench. The higher the mound, the more space inside the shelter.

Lay support beams (driftwood or other natural material) that span the trench on top of the mound to form the framework for a roof.

Enlarge the shelter’s entrance by digging out more sand in front of it.

Use natural materials such as grass or leaves to form a bed inside the shelter.

 Steve's Notes: If it isn't raining or about to, a quick survival shelter for warmth is a pile of dry vegetation. (Dry leaves, grass, bracken ferns or other plants.) I once collected enough dried grass from a frozen swamp in thirty minutes to make a pile several feet thick. I slept warmly in the middle of it (half the insulating grass above, half below) with just a jacket, despite below freezing temperatures.

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