Dirt Time - Shelter

I chose to take advantage of the opening nature had provided on March 8th & 9th 2011 to put in some field time in the same location where I did my PSK trial in December last year.

We'd had a winter storm the day before with a significant accumulation of snow. It was a nice day with a temperature of about - 8° C in the day.

In the photo you can see the beautiful view of the forest when I arrived.


I do not recommend for anyone to attempt this if you haven't received training.


I'll be brief to recount my experience, but you'll have enough to get a general though incomplete idea of my experience.

I used minimal modern resources to accomplish what I did. I used two Heatsheets from AMK (Adventure Medical Kits), and a polyester blanket I'd brought along. One of the Heat Sheets I used inside the shelter. As it was for my PSK trial I had limitations or restrictions that I had to respect.

I couldn't cut any live trees as part of the agreement to use the land, therefore the comfort level decreased and the level of difficulty increased substantially.

The walk to go to the location wasn't too bad, in that there was approximately 6 to 10 inches of snow to walk in.

However as I approached the forest the snow was much deeper, more around 20 to 30 inches in depth, as well as for some places in the forest. I didn't have snowshoes so I post holed my way through.

This is of course more challenging and tiring however in an emergency you may not be equipped with snowshoes. You may be thinking, just make some. Well, you need time, resources and skill.

Therefore if you are in a survival situation, ask yourself if you have the skill, if you do, do you have the resources to make the snowshoes, and if you do, do you have the time? It isn't always cut & dry simple. Prioritize according to your circumstances. You can make snowshoes but neglecting to make a shelter or fire could be dangerous.

I wanted to build a shelter using a Heatsheet blanket from AMK as well as snow and wood. It took several hours. I wanted to make it in the opening at the forest's edge, however to conserve energy I did it within the forest line near the opening which is preferable for a couple of reasons.

There was no fire in my setup, as can be the case depending on the shelter type and conditions you can expect. Believe me, I would have loved a fire, but it wasn't in the plan for this particular field exercise. All the more reason to know what you are doing, or you may have more to deal with than you bargained for.

As before, I brought a couple of items with me in the event things got a little out of control. However, in truth, it wouldn't have made much of a difference. This was a survival camp, not a campsite.

I knew that one of the things that people forget to do in cold weather is to move.

Move your extremities such as your arms, hands and fingers as well as your legs, feet and toes! Do stomach crunches as I did several times in my shelter to generate body heat. These are some of the things to consider. The chances are very slim that you will ever be comfortable in a cold weather survival situation using primitive shelters. However it is possible to have greater comfort using one configuration over another. It depends on several factors.

When nightfall came I looked up at the sky and saw the stars, and said to myself that it will be a cold night, and it was. Before heading out I checked the weather predictions, temperatures and wind directions. They were announcing a low - 12° C with the wind coming from the Northeast. Around 7:45 pm it was around - 10° C. I'd looked on my cellular phone. Then they changed the prediction, instead of  a low of - 12° C it changed to - 15° C. When I got home in the morning I checked on the weather site and it said that the temperature actually went down to - 17.2° C. My shelter would have been warmer than the outside temperatures, but it was a rough night.

I did eat some snack bars a few hours beforehand and while in the shelter to increase my metabolic rate to help me to fend off hypothermia. I drank water a few hours before entering the shelter, then urinated. Before going into the shelter I urinated again so that I wouldn't have to leave the shelter to go, and also because if you have to urinate, and hold it instead of urinating, you'll cool down.

I also waited till the last minute to enter my shelter which was around 10:45 pm. The reason was that I knew that I would chill through lack of physical exertion, so I stayed up and walked around my shelter and fixed it up a little bit here and there, keeping myself busy but not overdoing it either. With in-activity the metabolic activity lowers and then you can get colder and hypothermic.

It was calm out, but cold. A breeze started at some point but ceased quickly enough. If a strong wind would have come up and that it was no longer advantageous to remain outside, I would have entered the shelter.

Through exertion my hands had sweat, and my gloves were covered with ice, and even froze solid after I took them off to do other things which required dexterity, or simply to place my hands in my pockets where it was warmer.

In the shelter, I placed my hands in my pant pockets and in my jacket around my armpits. Then at some point I used the other gloves that I had in my jacket. The other now frozen pair were the one I used in my other dirt time experiences. I had to go from PSK style to wilderness survival kit style in the usage of materials, though in a minimalistic sort of way. It was that I used a polyester blanket within the shelter, along with one of two emergency blankets that are part of my PSK for the winter.

Also, I used another pair of gloves at some point for within the shelter. The other ones were useless because they were frozen, as well as because the inner lining was damaged, so that I couldn't put my fingers all the way in.

I was wearing my wool sweater over a polyester shirt and I had a pair of Rail Rider pants (X-Treme Adventure Pant) with long undergarments (thermax) for the top and bottom, with my winter coat. I also had two layers of head covering and a neck covering.

For the winter months, I keep these in my coat pockets. It is extremely important to dress as warm as possible so that if you are caught unawares and find yourself in an emergency situation, you'll have a better chance for survival.

I hadn't overdone it with the clothing, but it wouldn't be entirely proper on my part to do a survival scenario if I were dressed with so much clothing as to look like the Michelin man. You just do not know when or how things may happen, and I had to be realistic. However, if you have the chance to be very well dressed in an emergency situation, BY ALL MEANS do so!

Considering the use of materials:

Take into consideration your physical and psychological condition, overall circumstances including the season and the environment your are in. Take also into account the modern resources you have with you as well as the resources in your local vicinity. Utilize whatever resources are at your disposal in an efficient manner. Don't be a tree hugger who is afraid of cutting down some trees or stepping on plants out of fear that you'll damage the environment!

However, it isn't always necessary to cut down living trees. Having respect for your environment will help you to have more respect for yourself. Do what you must do however to conserve energy and to ease the burden of survival that is upon you.

Given the restrictions for the use of the land, I had to find dead wood in a forest with roughly 15, 20 to 30 inches of snow on the forest floor, which made it difficult to get to dead wood that was above the snow, and to find the wood I previously used and processed during my PSK trial.

Once found I had to dig to get to it, and sort out the wood to find the pieces I needed. I then had to haul the wood to my shelter location while struggling to walk in the holes in the snow I already made by walking in it.

This was tiresome. I had to rest and I stumbled every now and then as well, given the depth of the snow and the difficulty of carrying or pulling the wood to get to my shelter location.

If it were a real emergency, I wouldn't hesitate to cut the trees that were near my shelter site, thereby conserving precious energy and time. You also avoid building up a sweat, which under the right conditions, can prove dangerous.

Even if you keep your sweating under control, you'll still have more humidity in your clothing when you rest at night, increasing your heat loss. And remember that when you rest at night, your body's metabolic rate will decrease, which means that less heat is generated and you become colder.

The next morning it was around - 13° C  with a wind chill of - 22° C. I was glad to be able to go home. It was a long and challenging night, both physically and mentally, and I did gain from my experiences.

Just remember to not attempt this if you lack training and knowledge! I gave you some information here above, not all. You must accept full responsibility with regard to the use or misuse of information on this page.


Frozen gloves which I could hardly use anymore, but did. The red sheet underneath was part of my PSK for winter time to use as a shovel of sorts. It worked out for this field practice.

This is the backside of my shelter. I had made a frame, placed a Heatsheet from Adventure Medical Kits over it and cover it with snow.
I had to dig a trench and make walls to support the roof.
Partially constructed front view of the shelter.