Wilderness Shelter Fundamentals

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Wilderness Shelter Fundamentals


One of the most important outdoor skills is knowing how to build an effective wilderness shelter. A wilderness shelter will have a key role in protecting you from the elements and providing you a safe place to rest. They can provide for your physical needs and provide a sense of home and safety in the wild. Each season and environment presents its own challenges. However, there are a few universal principles for building an effective survival shelter:


The most significant part of making wilderness shelters is selecting the proper location. A good location is one that 1) offers easy access to sufficient materials such as sticks, leaves, and grasses. 2) Is away from risks such falling branches, pooling water, and insects. We want a position that provides a large flat area to allow us to lie down and sleep easily.


One of the most common mistakes when constructing shelters is to build them too large. This takes up more materials, effort, and time to create, but often ends up being cold due to the large interior space to be heated. Effective shelters will be small on the inside – large enough to fit your body and small to conserve body heat.


Every shelter needs to be fashioned with safety in mind. Strong branches should provide the preliminary framework for many types of survival shelters. In most cases, branches used for structure should be strong enough to support an adult. This is significant for debris hut and lean-to style shelters.

Insulation and Cover

It doesn’t matter if you are in a hot and sunny location or a cold wet forest, insulation and cover is vital to keep you sheltered from the elements. Grasses, leaves, small sticks, pine needles, and ferns are forms of debris that should be used for insulation. Be sure to layer debris in large quantities on your shelter. Don’t forget to use debris to create a heavy mattress on the interior of your shelter to protect you from the cold ground. Soil or Bark can be added on the exterior of your shelter to form a barrier from Mother Nature.

Heat Source

In cool and cold environments the principal shelter concern is remaining warm to avoid hypothermia. In survival shelters, there are generally two sets for a heat source: body heat and/or heat from a fire. Shelters that depend on body heat as the primary heat source (debris hut), should be small, confined and have lots of additional insulating debris (picture many times more than your sleeping bag) If you design a fire on the interior of your shelter as a heat source, wisely plan how it will be tended, be sure to collect a full supply of firewood before dark, and it goes without mentioning you should take extra care not to burn down your shelter.

Types of wilderness survival shelters

The type of shelter chosen rest on on many factors including materials available, environmental conditions, choice of heat source, and if it will be an individual or group shelter. A great option for a personal shelter heated by your own body heat is a debris hut.

Thatched Hut
A thatched hut is a great selection for a primitive shelter, if done correctly, it can be waterproof, and stand up to high winds, and can utilize an interior fireplace for warmth. While this is not a 5-minute shelter, considering the final product, it won’t take you as long as you think it might for the quality. An essential component of this shelter is locating the proper materials to build your shelter.

At the top of your priority list for a winter survival situation should be retaining warmth. The Quinzee is one of the quickest to construct and most effective shelters. Similar to an igloo but built from the inside out, the Quinzee provides you protection from the wind, some heat retention, and when built correctly, a cold sink to carry out the cold air that may be abundant.

Alpine Debris Bed
Not a true shelter in the sense of the word but, an alpine debris bed is a fantastic compliment to any shelter where you take refuge. Easy to create and more comfortable and insulating than the ground, the alpine debris bed has many benefits; warmth and protection from ground dwelling insects by nature of being above the ground. The potential relief that comes from this backcountry bed will make you glad you spent the extra time to build the alpine debris bed.

Lean-To Shelter
Possibly top of mind when picturing survival shelters is the lean-to. This is one of the simplest methods to get a roof over your head. While it may seem a little unprotected considering the open construction, a lean-to with attention to detail and materials used can be a great way to guard you from the elements in a survival situation.

Debris Hut
A great way to retain some warmth in the wilderness, the debris hut is a shelter made from the debris found on the ground. An easy to build shelter, the final product resembles a small tent and is a great method to build a quick shelter.
When scheduling a trip consider which types of survival shelters would be the best options for the season and environment you will travel into. A great routine is to practice perceiving good shelter locations while hiking.

Constructing shelters can be enjoyable and gratifying. Staying a night in a shelter made in a day with your own hands offers a wonderful sense of self sufficiency and accomplishment. Understanding basic principles and hands-on practice, survival shelters can benefit you weather most any survival situation.


1 Comment

  1. Lilian91 says:

    I see your blog is in a special niche.
    Do you allow guest posting?

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