Four Tips for Building a Survival Shelter

Four Tips for Building a Survival Shelter

Four Tips for Building a Survival Shelter

There are a number of events that could drive you to build a survival shelter with limited resources.

You may have gone for a hike on a beautiful day and been surprised by a turn in the weather that has made it impossible to get back down the mountain.

Or, as much as a prepared person would like to think it can’t happen to them, adults can easily get lost in the woods, requiring them to spend a night or two.

Or perhaps a disaster situation, such as flooding, civil unrest or a terrorist attack, has made it necessary for you to head to the woods.

Regardless of the reason, knowing how to build a solid shelter with the materials at hand can save your life in an emergency situation.

These four tips can help you prepare.

Choose your location wisely

You may not know how long you will be out in the woods, so when choosing a location, consider that you may be in it for a few days. If you can locate a source of clean water, build your shelter close to it — but not on top of it.

Constructing your shelter uphill of the water is ideal to avoid flooding and erosion of the ground beneath you.

You will most likely be using natural materials such as branches and logs to protect yourself from the elements. Choose a location close to an abundance of materials, as there is no need to waste energy hauling wood distances.

Observe the weather conditions and how they might affect your comfort in the shelter. If it is raining or windy, which direction is it coming from?

Determine what direction the sun will be rising, and use that information to warm or cool yourself, depending on your situation.

Look for rock outcroppings, caves and sturdy trees that might protect you from the elements and possible landslides or avalanches.

Avoid areas where you observe that rocks may have fallen from uphill, trees are damaged or there are signs of past flooding.


Be mindful of animal tracks and scat. Forest animals have routes they follow, and it’s best that you aren’t on one.

Also look for areas clear of heavy insect activity. That ant hill may not look like danger when you are setting up, but it could rob you of a good night’s sleep.

If you need emergency shelter because of civil unrest or an unsafe situation in town, choose a location that will protect you from potentially dangerous people. Stay further into the woods and off major pathways.

Take an inventory of materials in your pack

Take an inventory of the materials you have at hand and consider how you can utilize them in the construction of your shelter. Hopefully, even on a day hike or quick evacuation, you will have packed basic essentials such as a tarp, tactical knife, matches and a paracord bracelet.

These few lightweight items will make the construction of your shelter much easier.

String the paracord through the grommet holes of the tarp and attach it to nearby trees, creating instant protection.

There are a number of tarp configurations that can be constructed, depending on how many people you need to cover and what kind of protection you are seeking based on your specific situation.

Even if all you have is a simple poncho, it can be used to provide cover overhead, which is especially important in rain, snow or high temperature situations.

Use natural materials for construction

If you have truly been caught by surprise and are empty handed, other than perhaps your phone, knife, water bottle and a sweatshirt, you will need to use the natural materials at hand to build your shelter.

If you had luck in finding a natural rock formation or a group of trees that can provide partial shelter, start there. The most abundant shelter building material in the forest is wood. Look for strong, straight branches that can be used to build a foundation.

Avoid any branches that have rot on them or are broken. Familiarize yourself now with the variety of designs you can use. The last thing that you want to do when you’re out in the woods is waste your phone battery looking up shelter building techniques.

Although having paracord to secure your shelter together is helpful, there are techniques you can use to attach branches together with natural materials. Take the time to construct a bed out of smooth branches to keep yourself off the ground — this will keep you dry throughout the night.

Evergreen branches make an ideal roof for your shelter. However, if they are not available, branches with leaves or large pieces of bark can also help keep you dry. Whatever you can find to fill the gaps between the branches — whether that’s moss, grass or leaves — will help keep your shelter secure.

These materials also have the benefit of providing camouflage for your shelter.

You most likely will not have a sleeping bag or pillow in your pack if you weren’t intending to sleep outdoors overnight. After clearing your sleeping space of rocks and sticks, lay down whatever soft material you can find, such as fir branches, pine needles, dried grass or leaves.

Follow Forest Safety Rules

Just because you are in a survival situation, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to adhere to the forest safety rules you already know.

Keep your campfire a safe distance from your shelter as well as any trees or debris that may catch fire.

Self Defense Tools

Your self-defense tool should be kept accessible at all times, even when you are sleeping. If you do not have a firearm or knife with you, find something like a nice-sized stick or stone that can be used as a weapon against animals.

Resist the urge to use your phone as a flashlight or to communicate with others, as once you have established that you have no service, you will only drain the battery. When the time comes that you are ready to leave your shelter, you will want to have a working phone to make contact.

Written for Bug Out Bag Builder by Ross Burgess from

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