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People hear every day of the increasing turmoil in the world and want to be prepared if they need to bug out. Others simply have a love for the outdoors and want to learn how to construct temporary shelters for novelty or challenge. Still, others want to make sure that even though they live in a city or town, they have the knowledge, skills, and means to survive if stuck in a remote or wooded area and unable to get back to a location to get help.
Survival shelters are a way to do all of that and more. They are simple in design and easy to build, and if you’re stuck in a precarious situation, they can be the crucial advantage that boosts your chances of survival.
The best part is that in many cases, even if you don’t have tools or gear with you, you may still be able to build some of these wilderness survival shelters with your bare hands.
What are Survival Shelters?
Survival shelters are any form of temporary shelter that can be constructed on an emergency basis, often by just one person. They are a way to help increase your chance of survival in an emergency situation where you may be stuck away from home, in the woods, or even in a remote location. It will be your base of survival, where you keep your water, food, and even your essential survival gear.
Why Is Shelter Important for Survival?
Many people think that shelter is more of a luxury, but it is actually one of your core physiological needs, along with food and water. In fact, preparing safe shelter is something you should do even before finding food and water, since it can help secure your safety from a range of unpredictable and uncontrollable factors.
If you get lost in the bush or the SHTF and you’re stuck in the woods away from home, you may not be able to get to a safer location that day. This means you’ll need a way of sheltering yourself from the elements and exposure, in an emergency situation. Your shelter will also provide you with an increased level of protection from predators, pests, insects, and snakes.
Common Types of Survival Shelters
While this list certainly isn’t exhaustive, it does represent the most common styles and types of survival shelters for both short- and long-term survival. With each one, we’ll make sure we cover what they’re made out of, how to build it, and any tools or other equipment that you may need to accomplish the build.
Sometimes, you don’t need a survival shelter above you, but you need a soft spot to bed down for the night. If you have no problem sleeping outside, then a bough bed may just be perfect for you. The basic components are boughs from evergreens, leaves, grass, moss, and anything else soft you can find.
Set two logs on the ground parallel and about 3 feet apart. Fill the space between them with boughs of varying sizes, laying them down several at a time. Adding boughs in bunches not only helps pad the bed more, but it provides increased insulation from the cold ground.
A bare tipi shelter structure - unplash.com
A few poles, some of your cordage, and a little time, and you can have a reasonably sturdy tarp tipi to keep you sheltered from the rain, wind, sun, and more. The tipi is highly versatile, and since you can tie your poles and cover your tipi in just about anything, they can be put up in no time.
Use cordage to tie long, straight poles together at one end, while leaving them to spread out at the other. Keep adding poles in a circle until you’ve built up the walls of the tipi, then wrap your tarp around it and tie it together at the top. Leave a flap open at the bottom to act as a door.
Three wickiups in the forest — unplash.com
The wickiup is similar to the tipi but shorter, wider, and with a larger entrance. They are popular in the southwest but can be found across the nation and the world. To build one, you’ll need to start with several poles, hopefully with a few that have forked ends.
Lean the forks together to make a tripod, then begin leaning other poles onto that structure. Eventually, it will become well-supported, and you can thatch the outside with grasses, leaves, or even a tarp. If the climate is wetter, consider using large moss blankets to absorb precipitation and insulate the inside.
A leaf hut — unplash.com
A leaf hut is similar to a lean-to but is an A-frame design that is lower to the ground and more heavily insulated. To build one, get a long pole, at least 9 or 10 feet. Lay the pole down and prop up one end then lean sticks against the pole to create walls, and add leaf cover to those walls to insulate.
USMC Winter Shelter Snow Cave - Offgrid Recoil
For locations that have significant snowfall, setting up winter survival shelters in anything other than the snow can be futile. That’s where the snow cave comes in. While it is undoubtedly the most potentially dangerous type of shelter you can make in the snow, it may also be your only chance in a worst-case scenario.
You will need an incredibly deep snow bank that is solid. Dig into the side of it to form a low spot called the “cold well” where you’ll trap the incoming cold air. Then dig up and over that well to create a large shelf to sleep on. This shelf should be the highest part of the shelter so that all of the heated air will collect there.
Then dig a small hole, just 6 inches in diameter, somewhere in the roof for ventilation. This is a crucial step to perform, particularly if you’ll be blocking off your doorway after you enter the snow cave.
Quinzee built with branches to strengthen the structure - Willow Haven Outdoor
The quinzhee is one of the simplest snow structures you can create. It is a similar dome shape to an igloo, but lower to the ground and easier to construct. Snow must be of a certain height for an igloo to be possible, but almost any packable snow can be made into a quinzee.
To build a quinzee, start with making a pile of your gear underneath a tarp. You can use backpacks, rucksacks, coolers, or whatever you may have on hand. Then you need to pile snow onto the tarp and pack it down as hard as possible. You want at least two feet of snow so that you have some to clear out.
Then insert 12-inch sticks around the edges, so you can tell when you’ve hit 12 inches from the inside. Burrow into the structure, excavating the snow to the outside until you’ve reached all of the guide sticks. Put a hole in the center of the roof for ventilation and you’re done.
The ramada is an easy structure to create for hotter, sunny environments that only require a degree of shade to protect the inhabitants. It is a simple four-post design with a rectangular, flat roof. This won’t keep you dry from a sudden rainstorm, but if you’re stuck in a tropical or desert region with high temps and low precipitation, it could be ideal.
Once the corner beams have been set, the roof can be constructed from nearly anything. In many cases, the roof will be framed out by branches and simply covered with a tarp to provide life-saving shade. Walls can be added if desired, but they should be removable to allow daytime breezes.
Round lodges are a conglomeration of different cultures. It’s part wickiup and part tipi, but it all comes down to the primary benefit of its functionality. A round lodge can keep you out of the wind, rain, snow, and sun. While it is constructed in largely the same way as a tipi, it does have a solid doorway created by binding horizontal supports between two of the vertical posts to keep them at a set distance apart.
When laying the poles to create the structure, there should be a hole remaining in the center of the peak to allow campfire smoke to vent. Once the poles are set, the sides can be thatched with grass, leaves, or other matting material. It can even be buried under forest litter and debris for a higher degree of stealth and insulation.
A wedge tarp shelter is one of the easiest shelters to create, and it is ideal for areas where the wind comes whipping through. If you can determine the direction of the prevailing winds, the shape of the wedge tarp shelter will make sure you can avoid those blistering winds.
To build one, you’ll need a tarp and some stakes. You should also have something to drive the stakes in because trying to make a flat rock work is not how you want to smash your last few tent stakes. You’ll need a minimum of 5 tie-down points.
There should be a stake at each corner of the tarp, and one in the center of the side opposite the entrance. The entrance should face away from the prevailing winds, and the center of that side will be held up with a length of cordage tied to a nearby tree or supported by a branch in the ground.
If you only need area protection from rain, using a tarp wing is a great way to keep a large area dry. This is best used with a large 20x40 or similarly sized tarp so that even if the rain is blowing, there will be enough space under the “roof” to stay dry.
To create a tarp wing, simply tie up two diagonally-opposite corners, then tie the other two corners up either higher or lower than the first pair. This gives it a bit of wind protection, while also being able to keep the rain and sun off of an area.
While this is more of a sleeping bag than a shelter, we decided to include it. If you just need to keep yourself dry or sheltered while you catch some winks, or if you just have no other time or means to create another shelter, this can save you in a pinch.
Simply lay your tarp out, and fold it over ⅓ of the way, then ⅓ of the way again in the same direction. This will result in you being in the middle of a tarp burrito, with the seam underneath you. Tuck one side under the other to close it, and leave your body weight to seal the seam. The end can be left open for ventilation, or it can be closed to keep out the elements.
This method will retain a lot of the moisture from your breath, so be prepared for some dew or frost in the morning. This can lead to problems if your clothes are damp, so it’s best used only in dry areas.
Knowing about each of the various types of survival shelters is great, but it isn’t going to do you much good if you don’t have the means, the tools, with which you can create your shelter if you’re stuck somewhere and the SHTF. Even if you don’t plan on anything altering your fan’s normal operation, bushcrafting is a set of skills that are nearly essential for anyone who loves the outdoors.
Not only does bushcrafting allow you to get closer to nature in a way that not even camping can touch, but it gives you a chance to step outside your comfort zone and learn some new skills. On top of that, if you have a younger generation that you’re trying to get ready for the world, bushcraft makes great bonding activity for members of the family. It also lets you focus on the task at hand, without any distractions from the modern world.
No matter what your bushcrafting skill level is, there are some essentials that everyone should have in their bush bag. While you may not think you’ll need them all, the moment you decide to cull something from the list is the moment you guarantee you’ll need it on your next outing, or at some other incredibly inconvenient time. That said, you can certainly decide on your “starter” gear lineup, and expand upon it later as time and budgetary constraints permit. Here are your bushcrafting essentials.
A good backpack or rucksack helps you get your stuff from one location to the next. When SHTF, you don’t want to have your hands full of stuff as you’re trying to get to your destination. Some people prefer a larger bag, while others would rather have a smaller bag that has plenty of MOLLE straps for easier access to the things they need. Make sure to take plenty of time to shop for the best bag for you.
There are a couple of options to choose from when it comes to lighting. Classic handheld flashlights are always available, but one of the best types of light you can get is a headlamp, which allows you to illuminate the area while keeping your hands free to do other things. Hand-held flashlights can be helpful because you can shine the light right where you want it.
While we all hope a first aid kit isn’t something we need to use, you don’t want to find yourself in an emergency without one. From simple cuts and scrapes to more serious injuries, a first aid kit can help prevent infections and treat more serious injuries as well.
Sure, you can eat food cold in a pinch if you need to, but nothing compares to a hot meal. A set of cooking equipment can come in handy when you’re traveling, as well as when you’re bugging out at your wilderness survival shelter. Go with something easy to keep clean and not a hassle to carry with you on your journey.
A knife is an essential piece of equipment because it can be used in so many different ways. There are obvious uses like self-defense and food prep, but they can also be used for many different bushcrafting applications. You can use your knife for hunting, making items and other tools, and even making shelters.
This is crucial. Whether it's a paracord, rope, or a package of bootlaces, you’ll need something to use to tie things together. Making survival shelters will be difficult without cordage.
Many survival shelters will need a waterproofing method, and carrying a simple tarp is a great way to keep that component handy.
A robust fire starter is a must for any bag. Lighters can go bad or run out of fluid, but a firestarter will always be able to make sparks.
Know Your Shelters, Know Your Plan, Stay Safe
With how uncertain the future is, having a plan in place to keep your family safe is crucial. One of the most important things you need for survival is a shelter, but with a bit of planning and a few bushcraft essentials, you’ll be able to get a shelter constructed in no time.