Partially Built Debris Hut

Shelter is very important. You must be able to shelter yourself from the elements in whatever environment and weather you can encounter.

Different shelters have different qualities that you need to know in order to decide what sort of shelter is best for your circumstances.

Each shelter will have its own pros and cons, but the pros will win out and you can adapt or improvise to make your situation better.

When you are finished having a look at this page, please take a look at the Duct Tape page as well for more information on shelters along with some tips that can help out for shelter construction.

Hopefully you'll already have the right clothing on which is your primary shelter or first line of defense against the elements, but if you do not, all the more reason that your shelter will need to adequately protect you.

You need to get out of the sun, wind, rain, snow or other. There needs to be adequate ventilation, but not too much if your shelter is meant to trap body heat such as a debris hut.

There won't be a problem however if you pile up leaves and other debris on a debris hut. Seal off the entrance when you get in, and rest. Where fire is concerned (not with a debris hut!), more ventilation is required, including for a snow shelter.

Normally, do not make your shelter on the big side but just enough for your needs, so that your body can help to warm it up. This isn't the case if you have a near vertical lean-to, which personally I would never recommend. This sort of lean-to simply doesn't protect you enough. Another reason to keep it just big enough for your needs is that you'll save time, energy and resources in building a smaller shelter.

When you are collecting leaves or other natural materials for your shelter or collecting firewood, collect the materials that are further away from your camp to begin with, and work your way back in a circular pattern around your camp. The reason for this is that in the beginning you'll have more energy, at least normally, and as the emergency ordeal continues, you may become weaker and fatigue more easily. If you collected materials for your shelter and for firewood further away while you had the energy to do so, you'll have a fresh untouched supply of materials close to your camp when your are too tired to walk the distance for the materials. However, assess your situation and do what your best judgment will dictate for the circumstances.

There are so many different types of shelters. Some can be made from modern implements such as tarp, a poncho, an emergency blanket etc. Then there are the primitive shelters that can be built in any environment using local resources. Where there is sufficient snow you can make a snow shelter such as a quinzee or a snow trench. If you are in the boreal forest in the cold season, you may build a small log cabin or modify a hogan shelter and there are other possibilities. However making an elaborate shelter will be time and resource (think calories and water) intensive with all that would be required to build it.

It depends on the environment, how cold it is, and how long you intend to stay in your location as well as other things such as are you alone, what equipment do you have, how many people are there in the group, what level of experience is there among you to accomplish a more long term shelter etc.

What I call hybrid shelters can be made as well. This consists of primitive shelter building techniques, in combination with modern implements such as a tarp.

In the photo above is a shelter I had built using hybrid methods, a wood frame, tarp and other materials. This is nothing new to make use of modern gear to assist you in building a shelter, but do know how to do it!

I will not get into great detail here on this page because there is simply too much information that can be written on the subject. Therefore the information here on this page will not be complete. However, I will give you links so that you may learn more about shelters. There are many other types of shelters than discussed on this page. It is well worth the while to study up on the subject. This is too important a survival skill to pass up!

The type of shelter you will build will depend upon several factors. I'll list some of them here below with a brief explanation for each point. Your shelter will need to address any and all of these points, as well as any others in order to protect you.

1. The season.

  • Depending on your location you may face specific challenges such as frigid cold temperatures during a Canadian winter. A fire will be another priority in this case.

2. The environment.

  • How hostile is it? What sort of animals and insects inhabit the area? Are you in the middle of a frozen tundra where all you see is snow? Are you in the desert where all you see is sand? Is the terrain mainly rocky, muddy, wet or other? Do you have an abundance of wood and other natural resources at your disposal for shelter building and for firewood? Some shelters require fire as part of the setup.
  • If you are waist deep in snow you can build a snow trench, or perhaps a quinzee (SEE next paragraph below) for a longer term shelter. Avoid igloos that require great expertise to construct as well as the right kind of snow conditions.

A quinzee is a shelter that you can make however due to snow properties I have read that it'll only keep you warm (snow insulative properties) for around 3 or 4 days. This is because your body heat will rise to the inner roof and created condensation which will freeze and remove or at least reduce the insulative properties of the snow, because instead of snow you have an inner layer of ice. This makes sense so keep it in mind if you are considering building one.

You can dig a snow trench for a short term shelter. Quinzees also require the right snow conditions, but you'll learn about sintering which makes the difference. Beware of sweating when constructing these types of shelters. Clicking on 'sintering' will lead you to the Glossary page. Follow the links once there under 'Sintering' and you'll learn about quinzee construction as well.

3. Current weather as well as what could be expected for your location and time of year.

  • Mother Nature is powerful and you need to prepare for the ever changing weather you may face. She is neither for you nor against you, she is just there.

4. How many people are there in your group? Are any in your group injured or ill?

  • Some shelters can be built that will protect several people, and some are designed for one.

5. Modern implements that are available to assist you in the building of a shelter, such as a tarp.

  • Building a primitive shelter can be very time consuming, and you will use up a lot of your valuable energy (calories) in building it, as well as use up a portion of your body's water supply, meaning you'll be dehydrating.

If you have a tarp, use it. If it isn't large enough, you can still use it to patch up a portion of the roof, at least until you can find another solution. If you are making a small tarp shelter then that is fine, as long as it will be sufficient to protect you. The tarp can come in handy for other things if you can fix the roof in the before-mentioned example. Large pieces of peeled birch bark can be used. Cut 2 foot sections at a time by cutting around the circumference of the tree, then cut down the center of that 2 foot section while it is yet on the tree. Then remove it, flatten it out and place it on the roof. Cover that with other materials to keep it from blowing away in the wind and to further waterproof your roof.

6. Your energy level as well as your physical condition, such as if you have sustained any injuries or are ill. This is especially crucial if you are solo.

  • If you need to rest after a big ordeal and you cannot build a more suitable shelter, or if you have some sort of injury or illness, consider using any natural rock outcrops, caves or other natural features in your location to assist you. If you have a tarp or other impermeable barrier, use it if no natural features of themselves are sufficient, or none are available. If you do have a tarp or other impermeable barrier, it can be used to improve upon a natural feature if necessary.
  • If you were involved in a plane crash as an example, use the wreckage if available and useable, as a shelter when it is safe to do so.

7. How long you plan to stay in your current location.

  • If you decide to stay, a better shelter may be constructed. If you plan to relocate, have a simple shelter that will do the job before you leave. Conserve your energy. Have a look at Static Survival and Roaming Survival for more information.

8. Time of day, taking into account when the sun will set. Important given that this changes over the seasons.

  • Is there only two hours of daylight left, then it isn't time to build an elaborate shelter. Have something available to shelter you from the elements before it gets dark.

Be certain to always protect yourself from the ground, because up to 75 % of your body heat can be lost into the ground via conduction. Your body can lose or gain heat when it is in contact with the ground, depending on conditions. Do not lie on the ground unprotected.

In the photo to the left (an overturned trees root system), you'll see something in your environment that you can exploit, provided that the angle to the wind is right, or you will have to beef it up somewhat.

You can place some poles at an angle to enclose the area and pile up some debris to waterproof it.

If you have a tarp, use it. Be certain to make a bedding to protect you from the cold, damp ground. Spruce bows do an excellent job, but if not available there are other options. Use what you must according to your local resources. Put a barrier between you and the ground.

Be certain that the area is well drained, which is something to normally consider in shelter building, but there are some exceptions which I will briefly mention here below.
1. If you are in a swamp in the jungle, well... In that event you have to build a shelter that will be raised up above the water and ground level a couple of feet, to avoid the water, insects and snakes etc. If you are in a salt water swamp, look for the high tide line and be certain to build above it.

2. In certain cases, a natural hollow in the land may be used, to save time and energy or for other reasons. However, it may be required to dig a trench around the shelter to provide drainage.

3. If your shelter location requires that you would need to raise your bedding higher off the ground, you may use good sized logs in the direction that the water would flow, so that you can remain dry even as the water flows underneath you. This would be the case if your natural hollow happens to be a ditch. This normally shouldn't be the first place to look to build a shelter, but if you feel that you have to, be certain to build it right.

This is a list of things to normally consider when choosing a suitable shelter site, and there may be others according to your location and circumstances.

1. If in a forest, shelter in it to have extra protection from the wind etc., but near an open field or hill top so you can place your signals to attract rescuers.

2. Near a water source if available, but not too close to it because it can mask the sounds of rescue aircraft or ground search and rescue personnel. Also, the area may be prone to flooding. This is more evident if it is a stream or river. There may be more mosquitoes as well, and it may be more damp in the mornings.

3. Check for deadfalls (photo above), standing and others such as branches that have broken off but haven't yet fallen to the ground. They can come down on you during the night.

4. Not near any possible rockslides or mudslides. Also, beware of the possibility of avalanches if you are in that sort of environment.

5. Do not build your shelter near bee or hornets nests. Enough is enough if you know what I mean :)

6. Do not build it on a game trail. You may want to hunt at some point if your ordeal warrants it, but this isn't the road to take to accomplish it :)

7. Not in a valley, because of the possibility of dew that will form in the hollows in the valley. There is it seems some debate on this subject however. Beware of flooding if that is a danger in that area. Rivers may swell many feet in a storm, and dry beds in the deserts may flash flood due to a distant storm, so beware. Try and notice where the high water line is if near a river and go above that if you plan to build there. In a coastal survival situation you would need to do something similar by noticing the high tide line etc.

8. Not on a ridge, because you'll be exposed to high winds and the possibility of lightning strikes in a storm. From what I have gathered in my studies and to be brief, is that being approximately two-thirds of the way up the hill may be best. Consider this between points numbers 8 and 9 here, and make the best decision you can according to your circumstances.

Here are some links to help you understand shelter construction.

1. Wilderness Survival Shelters - Ten Tips

2. Wildwood Survival - Wilderness Survival - Shelter

Photo left: Near a water source, but not too close. If you are too close to a water source it might mask the sound of rescuers. There may be other reaosn as well so decide for yourself what is best if ever you find yourself in an emergency situation.

Shelters may be built using cordage, whether modern and/or natural, or may not need any cordage at all such as for a debris hut if you have the right conditions. Therefore please have a look at the Natural Cordage (Primitive) page and the Modern Cordage page to learn about different natural and modern materials respectively that can be used.

Have a look at the Videos page as well for more information.


Shelter Basics Raised Beds 1
Shelter Basics Raised Beds 2
Making a Quinzee Survival Shelter

I had made this shelter in the fall years ago. I used a wooden frame, a tarp and other materials to construct it.

At first there wasn't any snow, and the weather was a little warmer for the season, but it fluctuated.

I used plenty of duct tape which is VERY important to always have with you. I also used a 9' x 12' polyethylene drop sheet to cut the wind from the sides and front.

I was there for a good while so I made a shelter that would be comfortable and would last.