Being caught in an emergency situation with no shelter can be a terrifying experience. Exposure to the elements and not having access to the protection of a shelter can cause conditions such as hypothermia, dehydration and exhaustion.
Whether you regularly spend time in the wilderness or not, everyone should know how to build a survival shelter. Shelter should be your top priority if you’re stuck in the wilderness and exposed to extreme conditions.
By understanding the different types of bushcraft shelters and knowing a bit about their design, you’ll be able to choose the best survival shelter to build in an emergency.
We’ve compiled a list of the top 5 types of survival shelter for you to learn more about, with some simple instructions on how to build them:
1. Debris Hut
In terms of survival shelters, this is one of the most versatile options available to you. It can be built almost anywhere at any time, and you don’t need special tools and equipment.
Building a debris hut is an excellent option if you’re caught completely unexpectedly without shelter and don’t have any set resources to hand. Your debris hut can provide you with insulation to avoid heat loss and protection from wind, rain or extreme heat.
- Try to find an area that has some available debris. The debris can be in the form of sticks and branches, or if you’re close to an urban area you may find plastic sheeting or garbage bags. As well as having access to debris, you’ll also want to make sure that the area where you choose to build your debris hut is safe from hazards such as falling branches or pooling water.
- Use the sturdiest branch you can find (approx 6-8 feet if possible) and prop it up on the stump of a tree or slightly raised surface. This is known as the ridge pole or beam.
- Place shorter sticks along the length of this ridge pole on both sides. These shorter sticks are known as the ribbing. Make sure you leave room for a doorway. Aim for your ribbing sticks to make contact with the ground approximately 0.5 feet from where your body will sleep.
- Next you need to create a latticework of sticks by adding smaller sticks both on top and at 90 degree angles to the ribbing sticks. The role of the latticework is to stop the debris (which you use for protection) from falling into the shelter.
- Once the framework for your debris hut is secured, you can start to pile on your debris. You should aim for at least 3 feet of debris on the top and on the sides of the shelter.
- If the weather conditions are windy, you can add on additional sticks to the layer of debris to hold it down and stop debris such as leaves from blowing away.
- Crawl into your debris hut and make sure you have debris such as leaves underneath you in order to prevent heat loss through the cold ground.
Always make sure that your debris is as dry as possible. With a debris hut, aim to keep the wetter debris on the exterior of the hut and use only the soft, dry debris close to where you’ll sleep.
2. Floor Heating System
One of the most important things that a shelter can provide you with is warmth. If you’re in extremely cold conditions, you may also look to build a small fire within your shelter to keep your body temperature at a safe level throughout the night.
Unfortunately, adding a standard ‘campfire’ to your shelter can create a serious fire hazard – especially if your shelter is mainly built from dry wood and leaves. Fires in a shelter can also create smokiness which is bad for your lungs if you do not make an appropriate smoke hole for it to exit safely.
A Floor Heating system can be a brilliant alternative and is simply created by digging a hot rock heating pit into the floor of your shelter.
- Find a rock about the size of a bowling ball if possible. You should be able to carry it but you want it to be big enough to provide significant heat.
- Dig a small pit (slightly bigger than the rock you have chosen to transfer heat). Dig a hole within this to put the rock into. You’ll also need a flat rock or stone to cover the pit.
- Check carefully that everything fits – before you heat the rock. When you have everything in place, heat the rock using an external fire.
- Use a metal shovel to carry the heated rock back to your shelter and place it in the pit. Seal it with the flat stone and cover with soft branches if you have them. The heat will start to radiate through the floor and warm your shelter.
Always make sure that everything in your shelter and floor heating system fits together properly before you light your rock. Otherwise it will be too hot to move around.
3. Lean-To Survival Shelter
This is a very popular yet primitive method of building a survival shelter. It’s simple design makes it easy for any survivalist to build quickly during an emergency and it can be adapted to the resources that you have available to you.
You can make a lean-to survival shelter from the most basic materials. It is usually an open sided design so you’ll want to make sure you check the wind direction before you start to build.
- Start by finding a large rock or a fallen tree from which to create your lean-to shelter.
- Lean any branches or sticks against the rock or tree to help create a wall. Consider the direction of the rain and wind if there is any before creating your wall.
- Cover the branches and sticks with a secondary layer of protection – this could be leaves, tree bark, pine needles or any other natural materials that could help to insulate the shelter.
- If you need extra warmth, you might want to start a fire on the open side of the lean to shelter. Always make sure you do this carefully and extinguish it when you move on.
A lean to shelter is designed to offer maximum warmth so you don’t want to create a spacious shelter. It should be able to accommodate you snugly without excess space around.
4. Dome Shaped Survival Hut
Lots of bushcraft based survival shelters require straight branches to create the main shape of their structure. In comparison, a Dome Shaped Survival hut makes use of flexible branches, grasses and stems that can be woven, twisted or shaped.
By bending and weaving flexible natural materials, you can quickly and easily make a comfortable dome shaped survival hut to provide you with shelter.
- Clear a space in a safe area and make sure the ground is as flat as possible. Draw out a large semi circle (using a stick or your foot).
When drawing out the footprint of your shelter, make sure that the straight side equates to a little more than your height, and the width of the shelter is twice your breadth.
- Find 2 long flexible shoots with the thickness of a bamboo shoot. Push these into the corners of your semi circle ensuring they’re well secured.
- Bend these two shoots towards each other and weave them round and round until they have formed a large hoop in the center. They should reach shoulder height.
- Next, gather a pile of shorter shoots that are approx 0.5 feet long and push these into the ground to make the longer curved side of the semi circle drawing. These can be bent forward and woven into the hoop to form the entrance of the shelter.
- Finally, you need to lock together all of the upright elements by weaving slightly thinner shoots or saplings in and out. Work from floor to ceiling.
Your Dome Shaped Survival Hut will feel more and more stable as the shoots or saplings that you have used dry out. Don’t panic if it feels slightly weak when you first make it.
5. Enclosed Lean To Shelter
As we discussed, lean to shelters are a popular design when it comes to building survival shelters.
Whereas most lean to shelters have one side open, an enclosed lean to shelter will mean that the side is shut.
There are several ways to enclose your lean to shelter and it can be particularly useful in the following situations:
- To block out strong winds overnight and make your shelter more secure
- To lock in heat and keep you warm in cold conditions
- To offer shade from intense heat or sun
- To provide protection from insects such as mosquitoes
- To offer some level of protection against wildlife such as bears or snakes.
- Follow the steps required to build a standard Lean To Shelter.
- Consider the options you have for enclosing your lean to shelter. You’ll want to think about what materials you have in your bug out bag such as tarpaulin, bivvy bag, plastic sheeting and garbage bags.
If you don’t have a bug out bag or a get home bag with supplies, you can use natural options such as large branches with leaves on or big pieces of tree bark.
- Try to make your enclosed lean to shelter as secure as possible – this will provide you with the ultimate protection from the exterior.
To do this, you may have to shut yourself in by pulling across branches or closing the exposed side from within your shelter just before you go to sleep.
Top Tip: Using multiple layers to enclose your lean to shelter will offer extra protection. You can choose to combine natural resources with items you may have with you such as clothing or garbage bags.
Choosing the best type of survival shelter for you
Now that you know about these 5 different types of survival shelters, have a look at this helpful video to see how you can put your new found knowledge into practice.
Why not try making a survival shelter in your backyard? Practice makes perfect and it may be useful to understand the different techniques required.
Where is the best location to build a survival shelter?
There are a few different factors that are important to consider when you are finding an area to build your survival shelter.
You’ll want to assess the area for danger. Ideally you should aim for a clear space that is away from overhanging trees that could fall or drop large branches.
You should also look on the ground around the area for things such as ant hills to ensure you avoid these at all costs. Larger wildlife such as bears and snakes should also be considered when building your survival shelter so look out for traces and tracks.
Even if there’s very little wind when you’re building your shelter, check the direction of it anyway. You should always aim to have the opening of your shelter facing away from the wind – especially if building a sloped wall shelter. A light breeze is often beneficial for keeping bugs away so don’t worry about trying to avoid wind completely.
Building a survival shelter on high ground has lots of benefits. It will make it easier to spot if there are search parties looking for you, especially if they’re using rescue helicopters or drones.
It also often means that you’re likely to be on a drier patch of ground which can help you stay warmer for longer. Building your survival shelter on low ground or at the bottom of a slope can often mean you get water run off and your shelter will get wet.
How long can you survive in a survival shelter?
Having a survival shelter will make a huge difference to your chance of survival. Not only will you be able to keep warm for longer, you may also create a structure that is spotted by rescue teams who are searching for you.
Ideally you want to spend as few nights as possible in your survival shelter and they are generally only considered to be a short term, emergency option. However, if you have access to food, water and warmth, you may be able to survive here for weeks or months.
Knowing the different types of survival shelters and how to build them could save your life. A survival shelter can offer you protection from extreme weather conditions. It can also keep you warm and prevent you from suffering from conditions such as hypothermia and exhaustion.
Take the time to teach yourself and your loved ones how to make different types of survival shelters and you’ll be as prepared as possible if the worst happens.