Bushcraft 101: Building A Long Term Survival Shelter In The Woods

A long term survival shelter may be an overwhelming concept to consider, but it could easily become your reality in the event of a disaster. It’s essential that you know how to build a survival shelter that can offer you protection from the elements for weeks or months at a time. 

Understanding where to construct a long term survival shelter, the best conditions to build it in and how to begin making it will help you to create temporary accommodation for you and your loved ones. 

We’ve done mountains of research to help you to avoid a situation where you’re caught in unforeseen circumstances without shelter or protection. We’ve researched everything you need to know about building a long term survival shelter to help give you peace of mind if the worst happens. 

What Exactly Is a Long Term Survival Shelter?

A long term survival shelter is a shelter that you’re likely to stay in for more than a month. 

Whereas we’ve previously discussed 5 Types of Survival Shelters that will keep you warm and dry for a night or two, a long term survival shelter is a space where you’re probably expecting to stay for a significant amount of time. 

Shelter is essential to survival. It can keep you warm and dry as well as protecting you from wild animals. It also allows you to get essential rest that you may need in order to exert energy during the day to aid your rescue. If you are stranded or without a proper home long term, a long term survival shelter will mean the difference between life and death. 

A long term survival shelter will take elements of standard survival shelters but extend them so that they are most long lasting and offer more extensive protection – think more along the lines of survival forts in the woods. You’ll want to invest time and effort into your long term survival shelter as taking short cuts or failing to prepare it properly will simply result in you getting cold, wet or possibly threatened by predators. 

There is no reason why you can’t live in a long term survival shelter for years. Features such as a fireplace and a basic toilet system can be implemented fairly easily making them comfortable places to be day to day. Most people use them for a safe place to be during an emergency or calamity, but with everything they offer they can offer you protection longer term. 

Things To Note When Preparing To Build A Long Term Survival Shelter

When it comes to building your long term survival shelter, you really need to take your time to pick the right spot. With most survival shelters, you are simply building it to sleep in for a night or two before hopefully being rescued or moving on. 

However, with a long term survival shelter you’ll want to consider your positioning carefully so that you don’t set yourself up in an area that you then find out to be problematic. 

Some of things you’ll want to consider when preparing to build a long term survival shelter will include: 

Your proximity to water

You don’t want your long term survival shelter to be situated in an area where you’ll find water pools (such as at the bottom of a hill) or runoff entering your shelter from nearby streams or waterfalls. If you are making your long term shelter during a dry period, try to figure out where rainfall will come and how water may flow near your shelter to protect yourself from this. 

You do however need to be near water in order to have a source of drinking water. Dehydration is one of the most common causes of death for those surviving in the wild long term, so having adequate water nearby is essential. 

You don’t want to be more than a 5 or 10 minute walk away from your drinking water source as this could result in you using up valuable energy traveling to and from the site whilst carrying water. 

Remember if you’re creating a long term survival shelter you’ll also need water for washing clothes and equipment as well. 

Exposure to the elements

You need to carefully assess your surroundings and weigh up the pros and cons of your situation. Trees are an excellent example of this; they offer shade from the sun and protection from intense weather conditions, yet they could also blow over in the wind or lose branches which could fall and injure you. 

Try to find a sheltered spot that is safe from anything obviously overhanging it. The level of shelter that you require from your surroundings will also depend on whether or not you are awaiting rescue. If you are trying to alert overhead rescue teams to the fact that you are there, you’ll want to have some exposure so that they can spot your shelter easily. 

Figure out the direction of the wind before you make your shelter. This is important in figuring out which side your door will go on and will stop you from having wind blowing directly into the shelter. Obviously the wind direction can change but having a sense of the area in this way will help you to give yourself as much protection as possible. 

Availability of resources 

If you’re going to make a long term survival shelter, you’ll want to make sure that you have resources nearby which will enable you to expand upon the building of your shelter. This could include leafy branches and big logs or trees that you can pull into position. 

It’s also essential that you have resources such as fuel to make fire. Finding a spot with dry leaves for kindling as well as branches and wood to create heat will ensure you can keep warm and cook food. 

When it comes to food resources, try to find an area that is close to fruit bushes or grasses. You may want to find a spot that is close to an animal grazing area if you have hunting equipment with you, or a river if you are able to fish. 

The wilderness has a lot to offer so finding a spot for your long term shelter that is rich in resources will help you stay warm, safe and well fed. 

Potential for a bathroom area 

If you’re looking to set up a DIY shelter in the woods that you’re likely to live in for weeks, months or even years, you need to have a functioning bathroom area. 

Figuring out a separate bathroom area to your sleeping and living space is essential for basic hygiene. If you’re living in a long term survival shelter you probably won’t have access to medical attention so you really don’t want to get sick. Employing basic hygiene such as having designated space for using the bathroom away from your living area is essential for your health. 

Type of shelter

There are lots of different types of survival shelters and they can vary hugely in their design and structure. For a long term survival shelter you’ll probably want to consider one of the following types of shelter:


Lean to Shelter

Tarp Covered Shelter

How To Build A Long term Survival Shelter

The best type of survival shelter will depend on the resources you have, the weather conditions that you’re exposed to and your individual preference.

The lean-to survival shelter is an ideal long term survival shelter option as it has a simple design that has been used for centuries. It can feel like primitive shelter building, but it’s one of the best options around and can keep you safe, warm and dry. 

Whether you have lots of resources immediately available or you want to add elements to your lean-to shelter each day, it doesn’t require complex materials. 

Many lean-to survival shelters are open-sided but you may want to consider an enclosed lean-to survival shelter if you’re in an area with extremely cold or windy weather conditions. 

How to Build a Lean To Shelter 

  1.  Start by finding a large rock or a fallen tree from which to create your lean-to shelter. 
  1. 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. 
  1. 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.
  1. 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. 

What’s the difference Between A Short Term and Long Term Survival Shelter?

This is an interesting question as they do have a lot of similarities in their design and the way that they’re built. In general, a shelter in the wild needs to protect you properly whether you’re in there for a night or a year – without it, you may simply not survive. 

Short term survival shelters are usually fairly small and compact. You will simply go in and out of your shelter and live in that space overnight or for a few days.  

When you start to construct a long term survival shelter, you may immediately be looking at how it can expand and how you can create a living space in the immediate surrounding. This will include where you’ll go to the bathroom, where you’ll cook your food (if you’re able to do this outside) and whether you’ll eventually decide to build an outbuilding or additional shelter for storing your belongings, food or fuel. 

Long term survival shelters need to be built to last. With short term survival shelters you might simply choose the branches or fallen trees that are closest to you and that you can easily drag to your shelter. 

With a long term survival shelter you’ll want to focus more on getting the best materials available to you to ensure longevity in your shelter. Collecting piles of dried leaves and large branches from fir trees could make the difference between your shelter being insulated and keeping you warm for weeks on end, and you suffering from hypothermia. 

You may have more of your own personal things inside your long term survival shelter. Depending on the circumstances under which you are there, you may have been able to pack items such as a hanging flashlight or food storage containers.  


We want you to understand exactly what a long term survival shelter is and how to make one, so that you’re able to protect yourself and your loved ones if SHTF. A long term survival shelter can truly be lived in for the long term so it’s important to construct it carefully and you’ll reap the rewards. 

Understanding the best location and conditions in which to make your long term survival shelter as well as the ideal materials to use will help give you the peace of mind that you won’t be left exposed to the elements.

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