If you ever find yourself in a survival situation you need 3 main ingredients to survive. You need food, water, and shelter. This article will discuss how to build a shelter / make different types of shelters with minimal or no equipment. Keep in mind when you are in a survival situation that you must make use of everything at hand, whether it is a natural or man-made item. The smallest item such as an old soda can, a piece of rope, tarps, ponchos, and anything else you can use could mean the difference between getting out of a situation alive.
Things to Consider When Choosing a Site for a Shelter
When building an emergency shelter you have to consider where you are going to build the shelter. You do not want to travel far, but on the other hand you must pick a suitable location. Your location should be protected from the elements as much as possible. Use tree lines, rock outcroppings, and other natural terrain features to help create and protect your shelter. If possible ensure that you are not building your shelter in the home range of dangerous animals such as bears, wolves, or big cats. Try to choose a location that has an abundance of natural building materials such as wood, rocks, trees with large leaves, and other materials. This is especially important if you have no tools for cutting limbs or manufacturing the parts you will need for your shelter. Make sure you choose a safe area, do not build your shelter in areas that could flood, have trees falling, or rock slides coming down on top of you. If possible build your shelter near a source of food and water. Try to choose level ground that is higher than the surrounding terrain.
Deciding What Type of Shelter to Build
You also need to plan your shelter before you start. You need to inventory what supplies you have, and what natural materials are at hand to help you make this decision. You also need to think about the amount of effort it will take to build a shelter, your physical limitations, how much time you have to build the shelter, and what tools and materials you have. The shelters we are going to discuss are going to assume you have nothing with you that will help you erect a shelter. Keep in mind that even simple things such as a knife, a poncho, sharp rocks, or a little bit of string or rope could help you build even better shelters.
Field-Expedient Lean-to Shelter
If it is near dark, and you are in a wooded area this is a shelter that can be build quickly. You can build this shelter without any tools, but having a knife would make the job simpler. You will need two trees or poles that are approximately 6 feet apart. You will need another pole, branch, or tree that is also about 6 feet in length and 1-2 inches in diameter. You will need 5 to 8 poles that are roughly 8-9 feet long and 1-2 inches in diameter. These will be the beams of your shelter. You will also need some type of cordage to lash the shelter together. You can use rope, twine, wire, or natural vines to accomplish this. You can even make cordage by stripping the bark from certain types of trees and twisting it together.
The first step in construction is to tie the 6 foot pole to the two trees at waist to chest height. This creates a horizontal support. You can now lean 5-8 poles on the lee side of the support beam at an angle, if you have enough cordage lash them into place. The next step is to start at the bottom of the lean-to placing leaves, brush, or saplings to cover the framework. Working from the bottom up will allow water to run off the lean-to without entering the lean-to. You can place straw, pine needles, leaves, or grass inside of the lean-to for bedding. In cold weather you can create a fire-pit and fire reflector for warmth.
This is another simple shelter that can be build quickly, and requires no tools. This is a small shelter that will hold heat well. The debris shelter is a good choice for cold weather and when you have minimal or no supplies. The first step to building this shelter is to find a ridgepole, this will be a pole that is slightly longer than you are tall. It will need to be reasonable sturdy. Take the ridgepole and lash it to a stump, tree trunk, or some other sturdy front post. If nothing is available you can make a front support post from another sturdy pole. Lash the front of the ridgepole at waist height, if possible the front needs to face away from the wind. The back of the pole will lay on the ground, securing it will make the shelter sturdier. Now start leaning sticks on both sides of the ridge pole the entire length of the pole, this will be the frame of your walls. Make sure you give yourself enough room inside of the shelter. Now take smaller sticks and start laying them crosswise to form a latticework, this is what will hold your insulating material and keep it from falling through into the sleeping area of the shelter. Once this is done it is time to start piling debris over your latticework. Anything will work but try to put light, dry material on first. This could be dry grass, pine needles, or leaves. The thicker your debris covering the more insulated you shelter will be, once this is done add insulation and bedding material to the interior of the hut.
You will not always be in a wooded area when you find yourself in a survival situation. Even if you are in a desert there are ways to build a shelter. When constructing a desert shelter considering the time, effort, and materials needed to build a shelter becomes more important. This is due to the fact that you will lose fluids quickly while building your shelter and you may not have the ability to replace the lost fluids. In desert situation make use of natural shelters such as caves, rock outcroppings, or other natural shelters as much as possible.
If there is no natural shelter available you can build a shelter from the sand. Build a three sided mound of sand leaving one side open as an entrance. You only need to mound the sand deep enough to cover your body, this will protect you from the wind which can dehydrate you as fast as the sun in the desert. The problem with this type of shelter if finding material for the roof. If you have a poncho or some other type of material cover the top with the poncho anchoring it in place with rocks. If you do not have anything available find whatever natural materials you can to create a roof. Depending on what you find the roof may need supported by rocks to keep from destroying the sand walls.
You can also dig into the sand creating a below ground shelter, but this will take a lot of time and effort. If you choose to build this type of desert shelter do it late in the day or early in the morning which are the coolest times of the day. Be cautious when digging out a shelter in desert sands due to the possibility of the top caving in on you, use rocks for support where possible. If you can find a low spot it will make creating a below ground shelter easier. Safety is the main concern with desert shelters, if nothing else just digging a trench to get below the wind will help, and getting below ground level will be somewhat cooler.