Thursday, March 17, 2011

Survival shelter... How to buid one.


Purpose of Survival Shelters

A skill of building a shelter in various survival situations is crucial. A shelter can protect you from the sun, insects, wind, rain, snow, sun and hot or cold temperatures. It can also give you a feeling of well being. Hiding in a shelter creates a feeling of security. Also in hostile areas, shelters can hide you from possible dangers.

Size of a survival shelter

The most common mistake in building survival shelters is contructing them to large. A shelter of a proper size is one in which you can comfortably lie down. If you plan on using it for a longer period of time, you may want to be able to sit in it, but that is all. The bigger the shelter, the more difficult it is to keep it warm.

Shelter site selection

A site that you will choose for shelter should:
  • Contain material to make the type of shelter you need - it would be extremely inconvenient to carry materials from a distant place to build your shelter. When in a survival situation, you should try to preserve your energy, unless you have huge supply of food and you are warm.
  • Be large enough and level enough for you to lie down comfortably - as you will see below, many types of shelters are really small. They allow you to lie down only. It may be a bit uncomfortable, but such shelters are quick to build and they isolate you more efficiently from climate outside.
Apart from the above mentioned, depending on your environment, while choosing a shelter site you should also consider:
  • Suitability for signalling – you will probably spend most of the time in or around your shelter, therefore you should be able to signal for help from there.
  • Protection against wild animals, or rocks and dead trees that might fall.
  • Freedom from insects, reptiles, and poisonous plants.
Do not overlook natural formations that provide shelter – often this may be your best choice. Examples of these 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.
Apart from possible good options, there are also sites you should avoid when choosing your shelter site. 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.
  • Avoid low ground like ravines, narrow valleys and creek beds. Low areas usually collect heavy cold air at night and are therefore colder than the surrounding high ground. Also thick, brushy, low ground harbours more insects.
  • Avoid places inhabited by dangerous animals, ticks, mites, scorpions, poisonous snakes, stinging ants, bees nests etc.
  • Avoid loose rocks, dead limbs, coconuts, or other natural growth than could fall on your shelter or put you in danger.

Types of shelters

Once you have chosen a site for your shelter, you need to determine what type of a shelter you are going to build. Questions to ask yourself at this stage are:
  • How much time and effort will it take to build the type of shelter you have in mind in the particular environment? – you want to construct a shelter that will protect from outside conditions, but on the other hand you should also focus on limiting the amount of energy that you will spend on building it.
  • Will the type of shelter protect you adequately from the outside conditions?
  • Will you have sufficient tools to conclude each stage of building or will you be able to make the tools? – you do not want to work for many hours only to find out that you won't be able to finalise your concept because of lack of axe or saw.
  • Will the amout of material on site or around it be sufficient to create a big enough shelter?
Only if the answer to all of the above questions is YES, you can commence to build your shelter. If not – you should spend more time on thinking and planning. Maybe you can use some other materials or build a different type of shelter, or perhaps look for a better site.
REMEMBER! Survival shelters presented in this Outdoor Survival Guide are just examples – model shelter types. In your survival situation you will almost certainly be unable to build an exact replica of shelters presented here – YOU WILL HAVE TO IMPROVISE. Shelters presented here are for guidance on various types of solutions to help direct your mind to the best solution in your survival situation.



It takes only a short time and minimal equipment to build this lean–to shelter. You need a poncho or some sort of wide cloth or tilt (one that is waterproof would be best, but if properly stretched almost every will do), 2 to 3 metres of rope, three stakes about 30 centimetres long, and two trees or two poles 2 to 3 metres 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. This will protect you from the wind and rain.
To make a lean–to shelter, follow the steps:
  • Cut the rope in half. Tie halves of the rope to corners of one side of the cloth.
  • Attach about 10–centimetre drip sticks to each rope about 2.5 centimetres from the cloth. These drip sticks will keep rainwater from running down the ropes into the lean–to.
  • 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 cloth and anchor it to the ground – you can do it by putting stones on the remaining corners or by making wholes in the corners and anchoring your lean–to with sharpened sticks put through the wholes and into the ground.
You can now easily lie down in your shelter. Remember to isolate yourself from the ground, especially in cold climates. You can use leaves or pine needles for example. Just spread a sufficient layer on the ground.
If you plan to use the lean–to shelter for more than one night, or you expect rain, make a center support for your lean–to. You can make it with a line. Attach one end of the line to the center of your top edge and the other end to an overhanging branch. Make sure there is no slack in the line. Another method is to place a wooden stick upright under the center of the top edge of the lean–to. This method, however, will restrict your space and movements in the shelter.
To additionally protect yourself from wind and rain, you can place some insulating material, your rucksack, or other equipment at both sides of your shelter.


This type of shelter is usually a little better than the lean–to. It also protects you from the elements on two sides. It has, however, less usable space and observation area than a lean-to, what may be a significant drawback in some situations. To make this tent, you need a poncho, two 1.5 to 2.5–metre ropes, six sharpened sticks about 30 centimetres long, and two trees 2 to 3 metres apart.
To make a tent shelter, follow the steps: 
  • Attach the rope to the center of the cloth on each side – the easiest way will be to make wholes on each side of the cloth. To easily find its center fold the cloth in half; line of folding is the center. If the cloth is too delicate to be tight through wholes, you will simply have to grab handfuls of the cloth on each side and tie small knots on these 'ears'. You will then attach ropes to the knots.
  • Tie the other ends of these ropes at about knee height to two trees 2 to 3 metres apart and stretch the cloth tight – be careful not to rip it.
  • Draw both sides of the cloth tight and secure them to the ground like in a lean–to described above.
You will almost certainly have to support it in the center. Best way to do that is to build an A–frame inside the tent. Use two long enough sticks, one with a forked end, to form the frame and place it in the middle of the tent. When lying in the tent, you will have one stick from each side of yourself. If you push them a little into the ground they will protect the shelter from your sudden movements.


A one–man shelter can be easily made using a wide cloth. It requires a tree and three poles. One pole should be about 4.5 metres long and the other two about 3 metres long.
To make a one–man shelter, follow the steps:
  • Secure the 4.5–metre pole to the tree at about waist height. It should be attached firmly not to fall on you during your sleep. Best way to do that is to find a tree with a low branch that would support one side of the pole.
  • Lay the two 3–metre poles on the ground on either side of and in the same direction as the 4.5–metre pole.
  • Lay a piece of cloth over the 4.5 metre pole, so that about the same amount of material hangs on both sides.
  • Tuck the excess material under the 3–meter poles and spread it on the ground inside your shelter to serve as a floor. Remember though that it will not be enough to protect you from the cold and damp ground – you will have to introduce more isolation.
  • Stake down or put a spreader between the two 3–metre poles at the shelter's entrance so they will not slide inward. Staking down is a little more convenient, as you will not have a pole lying across your entrance.
  • If you have any excess material, you can use it to cover the entrance. If not, you can place there your belongings to protect you from the weather.
This type of shelter is small enough to be easily warmed. A candle, used carefully, can keep the inside temperature comfortable. This shelter will however be unsatisfactory when snow is falling, as even a light snowfall will cave it in.



If you find yourself in a wooded area and have enough natural materials, you can make a field–expedient lean–to survival shelter without the aid of tools or with only a knife. It takes longer to make this type of shelter than it does to make other types, but it is strong and protects well. If you expect to wait longer for help, you should consider building this type of shelter.
To build this survival shelter, you will need two trees about 2 metres apart, one pole about 2 metres long and at least 2.5 centimetres in diameter, five to eight poles about 3 metres long and at least 2.5 centimetres in diameter to serve as beams, cord or vines to secure the horizontal support to the trees, and other poles, saplings, or vines to criss-cross the beams.
To build this shelter, follow the steps:
  • Tie the 2–metre pole to the two trees at waist to chest height, depending on what height the shelter will be – in colder climates a lower shelter will make it easier for you to control the temperature. The horizontal pole will create the horizontal support. If standing trees are not available, construct a biped using Y-shaped sticks or two tripods.
  • Place one end of the beams (3–metre poles) on one side of the horizontal support pole. As with all lean–to type shelters, be sure to place shelters backside into the wind.
  • Criss–cross saplings or vines on the beams.
  • Cover the created framework with brush, leaves, pine needles or grass, starting from the bottom and working your way up like shingling. Once the layer is thick enough, you can secure it by placing long, 3–metre poles on top, just like when building a framework – leaves and grass will not be blown by the wind.
  • Again, remember about isolation from the ground.
In cold weather add to your lean-to shelter comfort by building a fire reflector wall, just like the one in the photograph. To do it, drive four 1.5 metre long stakes into the ground to support the wall. Stack logs on top of one another between the support stakes. You have to form two rows of stacked logs to create an inner space within the wall that you can fill with dirt, only then will the wall be wind proof. This action not only strengthens the wall but makes it more heat reflective. Bind the top of support stakes so that the logs and dirt will stay in place.
With just a little more effort you can build a drying rack. You just need to cut a few poles. Lay one end of the poles on the lean–to support and the other end on top of the reflector wall. Tie smaller sticks across these poles or simply hang ropes between them. You now have a place to dry clothes, meat, or fish.
You can lit fire inside this lean–to without the risk of hurting yourself. The best method is to dig a hole by the fire reflector and lit fire in there. This way you will not risk accidental burning of your shelter and will be able to sleep by the burning fire without the risk of getting hurt.


This is the best type of the shelter from among all. It is warm and strong and not so difficult to build. If you are in a cold climate, where shelter is essential for your survival, you should build this type of shelter.
To build this shelter, follow the steps:
  • Make a tripod with two short stakes and a long ridgepole, by placing one end of ridgepole on top of a sturdy base or by tying it to a tree at about waist height.
  • If you decided on a tripod, it is good to secure the ridgepole with additional poles – it needs to hold firmly as it will support the whole shelter.
  • Prop large sticks along both sides of the ridgepole to create a wedge–shaped ribbing effect, just like in the picture on the right. Ensure the ribbing is wide enough to accommodate your body, gear that should be protected from the weather and that it is steep enough to shed moisture.
  • Place finer sticks crosswise on the ribbing. These form a latticework that will keep the insulating material like grass, pine needles or leaves from falling through the ribbing into the shelter.
  • Add light and, if possible, dry soft debris over the ribbing. You will want the insulating material to be at least 1 metre thick - the thicker the better. Now you can see how strong the ribbing must be to hold this weight of debrits.
  • Just as with the lean–to, you should place additional poles on top of the insulating layer to prevent it from being blown away.
  • If the climate is cold, you should cover the entrance to the shelter. You can consider building a door, which should be windproof, or simply pile insulating material at entrance – you will drag it inside to cover the entrance.

Good Luck,
The Bad Man

No comments:

Post a Comment