If you’re going to spend any time in the wilderness, you’ll eventually come up against the possibility of needing a shelter at a time when you don’t have one with you. Of course, if you manage to go into the wild well prepared, you’ll have a tent or at least a tarp that you can use for shelter. But if all you’ve got is what’s in your pockets, you’re going to have to improvise something.
Survival shelters can take all forms, as long as they provide you with what you need. That means they need to protect you from the elements, most specifically rain and wind. At the same time, during much of the year, survival shelters must also help hold in heat, protecting you from the cold.
Shelters that Nature Provides
The first thing to look for is anything that nature provides which can be used as a survival shelter. There are a number of things you can find, which make excellent survival shelters or the beginning of survival shelters:
- A cave
- An undercut bank
- The root structure of a deadfall tree
- An animal’s den under some bushes (just make sure it’s abandoned)
- A dense thicket of trees and brush
- Underneath a large pine tree which has branches brushing the ground
While most of these won’t be perfect shelters, they are a good start. By taking branches from nearby trees you can easily improve upon them, making them into excellent survival shelters.
When Nature isn’t Providing a Shelter
Even when there is no natural shelter available, nature will still provide materials, which you can use to make your own shelter. Mankind has been making shelters out of the materials available to us from nature for millennia. Since we’re talking survival shelters here, we don’t need to think in terms of a log or adobe cabin, merely something to sleep in for a night or two.
There are many different ways of making a temporary survival shelter. Everyone has heard of the lean-to, which is fairly easy to make. Unfortunately, it’s not a very efficient shelter, as it doesn’t hold heat in well and offers only limited protection from the rain. Nevertheless, if you can’t build anything else, a lean-to is better than nothing, especially when built with its back to the wind and a nice warm fire burning in front of it to keep you warm.
The easiest and probably most effective shelter to build in a survival situation is the debris hut. Calling it a hut may be a bit misleading, as it doesn’t look anything like any hut that you might imagine. But, that’s its name. It is called a debris hut because the major material used is debris off the forest floor.
Building a shelter in the woods is better than building one out in the open. The trees themselves will help, by providing a wind break, as well as some shelter from the rain. Building your debris hut under a large tree with lots of densely leafed branches will help, as the leaves will shed much of the rain.
Building a Debris Hut
To build a debris hut, start by finding a fallen branch that’s about eight feet long. You’ll want a fairly thin branch, about three or four inches in diameter, so that you don’t have a lot of weight to deal with. This branch will become your ridge pole. One end will need to be attached to a tree’s trunk, about three feet off the ground.
Since we’re assuming you have nothing to work with, other than what’s in your pockets, the easiest way to attach the ridge pole to the tree is to find a tree with a branch sticking out at about three feet above the ground. The end of the branch you’re using as a ridge pole can be set into the Y caused by the branch and bound in place with long grass. Clear the twigs off the bottom side of this ridge pole, where they would stick into your shelter.
Next, you’ll need to build the structure of the survival shelter. Find a bunch of sticks, either on the ground or cutting them off of tree branches. You’ll need a variety of lengths, as these sticks are going to set on the ground, with one end leaning against the ridge pole. At the tree end, they’ll need to be about four feet long, but at the other end, about a foot.
Place the sticks as just described, with one end leaning against the ridge pole. The sticks should be at about a 45 degree angle, so that they can form a good space between them. You’ll need to locate the sticks about two inches apart to be effective. Tie them to the ridge pole with long grass.
The final step in building a debris hut is to pile on debris from the forest floor. Gather up the leaves and twigs that cover the ground and pile them on your structure, making a huge leaf pile. The sticks of the structure should prevent them from falling through, leaving you a space underneath, where you can shelter. The leaves will shed water well, stay put for all but the strongest wind and work as a natural insulation.
You can even use a pile of leaves as a door, sealing yourself inside the debris hut and keeping the cold air out. There will be sufficient space between the leaves for air to get through, so there’s no chance of suffocation. Your debris hut may not be big enough to work and cook in, but it will offer you a tidy place to sleep, protected from any adverse weather.