Wilderness and Emergency Survival Shelters

Share with:

FacebookTwitterGoogleTumblrStumbleUponRedditPinterestDiggDeliciousEmail this pagePrint this page


Shelter is one of the top priorities necessities in the wilderness, emergencies and survival situation. Knowing which shelter would be best for you depends on the situation or location you are in.

What you need to do is first ask yourself how quickly you need to build a shelter, and how long you plan on being in the local vicinity. In a true survival situation you will probably need to build a shelter rather quickly and preferably before night falls. Here is a few different types of shelters you can build, also you can pick up The Complete Survival Shelters Handbook which is A Step-by-Step Guide to Building Life-saving Structures for Every Climate and Wilderness Situation.

Squirrel Nest

The Squirrel Nest shelter is one of the most simplest of all woodland shelters. They are the quickest to put together since they are just a pile of leaves.

This type of shelter can be surprisingly warm and even effective at keeping you dry.

Mound up a huge dry pile of leaves and dig yourself a trough in the middle, lie down, and then pull the leaves over you.

Two or more feet of leaves on top will resist moderate rain for hours, but it’s necessary to lie very still to keep them in place.

To increase the stability of a squirrel nest shelter make the shelter between two fallen logs. This will prevent leaves from spreading out on the forest floor.

Debris Hut

The Debris Hut shelter provides a quick sleeping shelter for one to two people. However it is not possible to do anything else in it  such as cooking, working, etc.

To make a Debris Hut shelter cut a strong, straight branch at least 10′ (3m) long for the ridgepole. One end goes on the ground while the other is supported by a pair of sturdy sticks set into the ground and crossed and tied (using vine, paracord or even shoelace) near the top.

If you can find a naturally occurring support for the open end, such as a low tree limb, by all means use it! Lash the ridgepole to the support with cordage.

Cut a bunch of sticks at leave 1″ in diameter, and place them diagonally against both sides of the ridgepole, spacing them about 2″ apart. It is not necessary to tie them in place.

Now lay down inside and make sure it covers your entire body, with enough height for toes and at least 3″ extra width on  each side of your shoulders.

If you have a tarp or poncho place it over the ridgepole and secure the points of the tarp/poncho to the ground.

If you do not have a tarp or poncho, or would like more insulation then begin piling leaves over the sticks (or poncho)  and don’t stop until the pile is ridiculously high. The leaves will settle quickly, and the thicker the covering remains, the better it will protect you from rain and heat loss.

Lay more sticks or leafy branches over the leaves to hold them in place. Branches with pine needles are the best.

Now, if you haven’t followed the tip we have below, stuff the inside of the hut with leaves for insulation. Leave a good pile of leaves at the door. After you wiggle your way in feet-first for the night, pull the loose pile of leaves in after you to close the entrance and prevent heat loss around your head.

Tip: Build the debris hut over a huge pile of leaves to avoid having to stuff it later.

Shade Shelter

The Shade Shelter is primarily for those in desert environments but can also be adapted for colder weather locations as well.

This type of shelter is ideal for hot and arid climates where travelers or survivors need to be aware of the heat and sun which can lead to deadly heat stroke.

In winter environments travelers or survivors may need to protect themselves against sunburn or snow blindness.

If rain protection is not an objective then even a bare pile of sticks will suffice for a shade shelter that resembles a partial teepee.

Cut three long poles and last them not too tightly at least 1″ down from one end. Stand the assembly upright, then spread the legs into a tripod.

Take more long poles and align them between two of the poles, resting their tops in the crotch of the main poles at the top.

For protection from the sun from two directions, fill in two sides of the pyramid.

If long sticks are difficult to come by, last a couple of shorter sticks horizontally between two main uprights. You can then pile shorter sticks or even sagebrush against them.

For sun protection fro, dawn to dusk, use four poles for the main structure and cover three sides, leaving the open side facing north in the northern hemisphere, south in the southern.

Wind Block

While building a shelter to block just the wind seems like an awful lot of energy for a shelter tha

Lean-To

One of the most popular and well-known wilderness and survival emergency shelters is the Lean-To shelter.

Lean-tos are a class of shelter with a common configuration but no set structure.

They all consist of a flat slanted roof and, usually, two or more stout poles that serve as rafters.

Covering Your Lean-To

If you have a tarp or poncho use it! If not the below methods are great secondary coverings.

Large slabs of bark can be pulled off of down, rotten trees, and these make excellent roofing material.

Lay a curse across the bottom, then work your way up, overlapping each course like shingling a house.

Pile several feet of leaves over closely spaced roof poles and hold them in place with light branches, as for a debris hut.

The roof must be pitched steeply, at least 45 degree angle, if thatching is to be used.

Tip: For greater protection, sides can be added to a lean-to using the same methods. Ultimately, you can even enclose part or all of the front as well for a structure that will conserve heat as well as provide rain and wind protection.

In conclusion, there are various of types of shelters that we haven’t even covered. We will be doing a few more Shelter 101 write-ups that will include other types of shelters. Many of the above are excellent shelters for wilderness environments and for when you are in an emergency survival situation.

Excerpt from: The Complete Survival Shelters Handbook By Anthonio Akkermans

Leave a Reply