How to Build a Shelter in the Woods

primitive shelter
My first primitive shelter 75% compete....

by Nicholas

Building a shelter is one of your top priorities in any survival situation.  Yes, you need water to keep you hydrated.  You need food to keep your energy levels up.  You need fire to stay warm and cook food.  But a shelter ranks equally as high as those priorities. A good shelter will shield you from the elements and keep you alive, especially in severe weather conditions when just having a fire won’t keep you alive.

But let’s say that you’re stranded out in the wilderness without a tent, tarp, garbage bag, space blanket, or any other kind of a shelter-type building material.  Are you supposed to just give in to extreme weather conditions?

The answer is no, and furthermore, it is possible to build a warm and secure shelter in the wilderness if you didn’t bring materials.  In this article, we’re going to learn about a handful of the different types of shelters that you can build, simply using available natural materials in the wilderness. First, let’s talk about some factors to consider before you build any shelter.

FACTORS TO REMEMBER WHEN BUILDING A SHELTER

Location and time are everything when it comes to building survival shelters because these two things largely determine whether your shelter will keep you alive or whether you will die trying.  Let’s talk about location first.

Safety is the biggest concern when it comes to selecting the location of your shelter.  Avoid building in a location where dead trees or large boulders could potentially fall or roll over your site. You will want to build your shelter within walking distance of water, a basic necessity for survival, don’t build right next to a stream or river as your shelter could be swept away in a flash flood.

Finally, don’t build your shelter out in the open or on top of a hill.  If you do and the wind picks up, your teeth will be chattering all night and you won’t get any sleep.  Constructing your shelter at the bottom of a hill or a ravine could make you the victim of a funnel of high winds or a flash flood.  Instead, build your shelter along the side of a hill in the flattest place possible, and in a place that is somewhat sheltered from rain.

The other major factor to remember when building a shelter is the time it takes to build them.  Shelters don’t just spring up on their own in a matter of seconds.  They take the time to plan and build, which is why you should set aside a minimum of two hours or more before nightfall to build your shelter.  This will hopefully be enough time for you to determine the type of shelter you will build, gather the necessary materials, and then build it.  Give yourself more time if you’ve selected a more complicated type of shelter, if resources are a little scarcer, or if you have a physical disability or injury that could impede your building process.

Now that we have learned about the different considerations to take into account when building any shelter, we will learn about the variety of different shelter options you have available and how to build each one:

how to bug in

A-FRAME SHELTER

The A-Frame is one of the most highly recommended shelters by survivalists due to its simplicity and excellent protection against high winds and rain.

To build the A-Frame, find a pole over six-feet in length. Find two trees roughly the same distance apart (6 feet) and position the pole horizontally between them. For extra security, tie the pole to the trees at both ends.

Next, gather a series of smaller sticks and poles and rest them slanted against both sides of the horizontal pole.  Again, for extra security, you can tie the slanted poles together at the top where they meet.  Next, gather dirt, pine boughs, and leaves and pack them over the slanted sticks for insulation.  Also, use a pile of leaves to make the bedding inside.

Leave a large enough opening at one of the ends of the shelter for you to crawl through, and your A-Frame shelter is complete.

LEAF HUT SHELTER

Also called the debris hut shelter, the leaf hut shelter builds on the principles of the A-Frame, and while it’s more complicated and time-consuming to build, it’s also significantly more insulated and weatherproof.

Begin by finding a pole that is around ten feet in length.  Prop it up on a tree fork, a stump, or a rock so that it sticks up in the air at a slanted angle; secure it with lashings or rocks.  Next, set smaller poles and sticks that have branches along both sides of the pole just as you would do with the A-Frame.  Set as many sticks and poles with branches along the sides as possible so that the branches intertwine.

Next, gather as many leaves, ferns, moss, pine boughs, and other kinds of vegetation as you can find and pack them along both sides of the leaf hut.  Ideally, your hut should be at least two-feet thick with vegetation on both sides.  Set more vegetation on the insides to serve as your bedding, and then construct a fire pit at the opening.

Your leaf hut shelter is now complete.  It will be warmer than the A-Frame due to more insulation but it also requires a lot of vegetation and brush to make, so it can only be done in areas where lots of vegetation is available.

LEAN-TO SHELTER

The classic lean-to shelter is likely the simplest shelter of all time. It is actually just like building an A-Frame shelter with only one side.

As with the A-Frame, set a pole at least six feet long horizontally between two trees.  Instead of setting slanted poles against the horizontal pole on both sides, only do it on the side that faces the wind.  Again, pack the slanted poles with vegetation and construct a bed on the open side.  It won’t offer much in the way of insulation, but it will deflect the incoming wind. If you make a fire on the open side, it can help to keep you warm as well.

RAMADA SHELTER

Also known as the gazebo shelter, the ramada shelter is a shelter that should be constructed strictly in the desert or tropical environments.  In no way can it be considered adequate for temperate or winter climates.  This is because the main purpose of the ramada is to shield the sun and provide you with shade, not keep you warm.

In its most basic form, a ramada shelter is four beams that stick up out of the ground into the air with a tarp over the top to block out the sun.  If you don’t have a tarp, you can use sticks, leaves, and brush. For a more complicated version of the ramada, you can also construct walls on any or all of the four sides to protect against the desert winds.

 

SNOW CAVE

The snow cave is obviously a winter survival shelter, and it should be noted that it can be dangerous.  If it collapses on you, you can be buried alive in the snow and die from a lack of oxygen.  That’s why you should only construct a snow cave if you have a solid and deep bank of snow.

Building the snow cave, however, is simple.  You simply dig into the side of the snow bank to create a tunnel with one low spot in the middle of the tunnel.  Then, continue digging and create a bed at the end of the tunnel to sleep on.  The cold air that travels into the tunnel will collect in the low spot and keep you warm.  Once you’ve dug one or two small holes into the side of the shelter to let oxygen in, your snow cave is complete.

 

QUINZHEE SHELTER

Another type of winter survival shelter is the quinzhee shelter.  Shaped like a dome, the quinzhee is similar in function to an igloo.

Begin by gathering a large pile of snow.  For extra security, you can pile it over some gear underneath a blanket or tarp that you have in the center.  The snow must be packed down and should be two feet thick on all sides.  Next, push one-foot sticks into the dome on multiple sides until you have at least thirty sticks around all parts of the dome.

Dig a tunnel into one side of the dome until you find your gear in the middle.  Inside the tunnel, dig a larger hole until you meet the bases of the sticks.  Punch a ventilation hole through the dome and construct your bedding.  Your quinzhee winter survival shelter is now complete.

 

WEDGE TARP SHELTER

The wedge tarp shelter is built for protection from the winds.  It’s also the only type of shelter in this list that must be built with a tarp rather than using only natural materials. We decided to include it because it’s one of the best shelters out there for deflecting winds.

Stake down two corners of your tarp in the direction of the wind.  Take a rope, paracord, or vine and run it through the center of the opposing side of your tarp and then tie the end up around a tree.  Take your remaining two corners of the tarp and also tie them down toward the ground as securely as possible.

Find some rocks and place them over the edges of the tarp facing the wind and along the sides to better secure it.  Leave the end facing the opposite side of the wind and the tree open so that you can crawl into it.  Use vegetation to make a bed on the inside.  Your wedge tarp shelter is now complete.

 

WICKI-UP SHELTER

The wicki-up shelter is essentially a simplified tipee that is a perfect defense against rain.

To make the wicki-up shelter, collect at least two dozen poles and then use at least three of them to make a tripod by locking them together at the top.  This is your frame.  Continue to set more poles in between the poles of the frame and once they are all set, lash them all together securely at the top.

Insulate the shelter by packing vegetation between the poles and as a bedding on the inside.  There should be enough space on the inside for you to lay down in.  Leave one of the ends open for you to crawl through and construct a small fire at this open end.  With the fire and enough insulation, you’ll be warm and protected from the rain.

 

CONCLUSION

There are many more survival shelters out there that you can build, but these are just some of the most commonly used ones.  Each of them except for the wedge tarp shelter can be built with completely natural materials found in the wilderness, which drastically increases the viability of these shelters in a survival situation.

Remember to give yourself plenty of time for building your shelters and to choose the safest locations possible.  It doesn’t matter how well you build your fort; if it’s in a bad location, it’s all going to be worthless.

All in all, shelter building is one of the top priorities in a survival situation because it’s the only thing that will protect you from extreme weather.  Each shelter serves a different purpose as far as protecting from the elements. Keep each of these shelters in mind and when needed, select the one that will provide the best protection for your environment.


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  1. I’ve recently started a blog, the info you offer on this site has helped me tremendously. Thank you for all of your time & work.

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