How to Find or Build a Survival Shelter

Building a survival shelter is an absolute priority, if you face a survival situation in harsh or unpredictable weather. A good shelter must protect you from the elements and be comfortable enough for resting and sleeping. Most people cannot survive unprotected from rough weather for more than a few hours.

If possible choose ground:

  • that is dry, well drained and reasonably flat.
  • that is a comfortable distance to water and has a supply of firewood.
  • that has building materials for your shelter.
  • that provides protection against strong winds.

If you are lost and people are looking for you, make sure your shelter site is easy to be seen and found by search and rescue teams.

Unsuitable shelter sites:

  • A site too close to water may lead you to be troubled by insects.
  • Rivers presents a constant threat to safety. Heavy rainfall in nearby hills can easily create flash floods. Avoid dry riverbeds.
  • Avoid loose rocks, dead trees or other natural growth that could fall on your shelter.
  • Low ground, such as ravines and narrow valleys, could be damp and collect the heavy cold air at night and are therefore be colder than the surrounding high ground. On the other hand, the tops of mountains are exposed to higher winds. The best area to seek shelter is somewhere in between.

Survival shelters:

If you have added a shelter tarp, an emergency blanket or an extra poncho to your gear, you are almost done with your shelter building. However, if you lack equipment, local conditions and materials will determine the type of wilderness shelter you build.


Natural cover

How to build an Outdoor Survival Shelter

The debris hut is an example of a good outdoor survival shelter. A debris hut is just a pile of dead leaves, branches and whatever else is around. If done correctly, there is enough space under it for you to lie under the pile comfortably – and still breathe. It should take about 1-2 hours to build a hut, so don’t wait until it gets dark to start building.


To make a debris hut:

 Find yourself a long sturdy pole of a length about 1.5-2 times your height. This will be the main beam of your hut.

Another option is to find a fallen tree that will fit to build this hut. Look for something to hold the main beam of the hut off the ground. A rock, stump, tree with a forked branch, or anything strong enough can be used for this support. The height should be a little taller than you are where you are sitting.

Make your shelter just large enough to accommodate you, especially in cold climates, because you are going to have to heat it with your own body heat.

 Lean smaller poles against both sides of your main beam at about a 45 degree angle to make a framework. Place them close together and fill in around them with smaller branches.

 Cover this framework with materials at hand such as dead leaves, dry fern, evergreen branches, or grass. Use whatever you can find. Once you have sufficient debris in place, at least 3 feet (1 m) thick, you will need to place a layer of small, light branches over the outside of the hut to keep all your insulation from blowing away.

 Depending on how thick your insulating layer is, and that your debris is reasonably dry, a debris hut can keep people dry and warm in frigid temperatures.

debris hut

 Place a 1 foot (30 cm) layer of debris inside the shelter. Try to choose stuff that you would like to sleep on. Your body heat can be lost very quickly lying on the bare ground.

 At the entrance, pile insulating material that you can drag there once inside the shelter to close the entrance, or build a door. Try to place the entrance away from the wind. Wind and rain blowing towards or into the entrance will take the heat away from your shelter.

You can make a door by gathering finger size dead wood and lashing it into a grid pattern. Make two grids and place debris between the two grids. Lash the grids together and you have an insulated door.

Efficient shelter

This simple outdoor survival shelter can make the difference in a wilderness survival situation.

Building a Survival Shelter made from Natural Materials

If building a survival shelter, a lean-to shelter is probably the easiest and quickest type of shelter to build. A lean-to shelter is suitable for most terrain. Always build this type of shelter with its back to the wind.

Lean-to shelter

Place two Y-shaped sticks in the ground about 1 foot (30 cm) down, so they stand about 3 feet (1 m) high. Take a long branch about 6 feet (2 m) long and use it as a ridge pole. Lay the ridge pole between the two forks. Now, fill in the roof area with other straight sticks tied at the top and buried in the ground. You now have the skeleton of the shelter.

Finally, you must cover the skeleton with whatever material is available, for example, spruce twigs, grass, bracken fern and large leaves. Always start at the bottom of the shelter and work upwards when thatching, so that if it rains, the water will run over the joints and will not leak through onto you. Try to make life as easy as possible by using any standing or fallen timber, or a wall, as one side of the shelter.

If warmth is needed, build a fire in front of your shelter.

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