According to the Rule of 3 you are able to survive three hours without shelter. This is mainly due to the fact that without proper shelter you are directly exposed to the elements. This can lead to dehydration, hypothermia, or other deadly issues. In fact, hypothermia is believed to be one of the major causes of death amongst outdoorsmen. It’s imperative to keep your body temperature at 98.6 degrees. Shelter helps you achieve this.
When you use natural materials to build a shelter it’s called a bushcraft shelter. Being able to provide a safe space for yourself when you’re in a survival situation is imperative. It’s even more beneficial to be able to use strictly natural resources to build this space. You never know what tools or materials you may have with you. Being able to create a shelter from items surrounding you in nature may save your life. With this being said, it will be easiest to build a bushcraft shelter if you have soon sort of tool to help. A knife, saw, or axe will make it a lot easier to obtain the resources you need.
There are five major techniques used to build a bushcraft shelter. We will review them below as well as discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each. One of the biggest mistakes when building any type of shelter is not allowing yourself enough time. Building a shelter can take time and energy, and will often need to be tweaked or altered once it’s finished. Be sure you allow yourself plenty of time to build. In addition, when building your shelter you’ll want to be mindful of the different types and what their main purpose is. If you are exposed to cold temperatures you’ll want a different shelter compared to if you are trying to hide from predators.
The A frame shelter got its name from the letter it looks like once it is fully constructed. It is probably the most common bushcraft shelter so is most likely the one you want to learn how to build first.
Construction: Your A-frame will consist of a ridgepole (the “bar” the runs across the top) as well as two arms that form the entrance to your shelter. When choosing branches for this bushcraft shelter be sure you are picking sturdy and strong ones. You’ll preferably want a stick that has a Y shape on the end. If you are unable to find any you can always use rope or vines to attach other sticks to the ridgepole. You will also want to consider the size of your shelter. You’ll probably want it to cover from your head to your toes so be sure you’re finding a log or branch long enough for that purpose. When adding the ribs of the frame be sure to choose sticks that are sturdy enough to withstand the elements. Once you have completed the ribs (this step will probably take the longest) you will begin the filling in process. Simply gather as many sticks, brush, twigs etc. to layer on top and in between those ribs. This will keep you secured from the elements and provide warmth. Depending on what environment you are in you may end up using leaves or moss to fill in as well. Depending on how long you plan on using this shelter you may want to enhance it by cleaning up the interior. Try snapping off any smaller twigs that are sticking through the inside. These may scratch you or be in your way. You can also add a bed of moss, leaves, or bark to the bottom of the shelter as well if you’d like to make it more comfortable.
Advantages: The A-frame shelter is probably the easiest type of shelter to build simply because you do not need any specific measurements. It can also be built relatively anywhere. As long as you have a nearby tree to prop the ridgepole on you’re good to go.
Disadvantages: If you are planning on using this shelter for more than a few days you probably won’t have much success. It’s very difficult to have a fire nearby so having warmth may be a challenge. Another issue is that you are quite literally sleeping on the ground. If you are in a wet or cold environment this may pose a problem.
A swamp bed is essentially a bed that is raised off of the ground. This may be a necessity if you are in a damp or cold environment.
Construction: Your first, and maybe most important, step is to find a dry area. You may be surrounded by moisture so “dry” is a relative term. Try to find higher ground and you will avoid flooding. You’ll want to ideally find an area, about the length of your body, where there are 4 trees in a square-like formation. If this is not possible you can use sturdy sticks to construct poles instead of using trees. Bamboo is a material that works great for this. It is sturdy enough to be used for the purpose. You will then want to find pieces of wood or sticks that are long enough to reach from tree to tree to form the base. If you do not have rope to secure the frame your can use vines or young tree branches to tie the larger pieces off. Once you have the rails in place you’ll want to add narrower sticks all the way across. Again, you can secure these to the rails with rope (if accessible) or vines. You may also be able to use shoelaces or fabric ripped into strips if needed. For padding and insulation add moss or leaves to the bottom so you are not directly laying on the sticks.
Advantages: This is a great technique to use if you are in a damp area. It also allows you to save more heat because you are not transferring it to the ground. In addition it can be combined with some of the other shelter techniques.
Disadvantages: It may be a challenge to find trees in the right spot. In addition, you are susceptible to the elements because there is no roof other than the trees covering overhead. Last but not least, it is probably not the most comfortable thing to sleep on.
A lean to shelter is pretty self explanatory. It is a shelter that is construction leaning up against something. A rock wall, a large tree, or a hillside are examples of structures that can be used. Depending on your needs and the resources that are available you can decide the size of your shelter.
Construction: You will want to begin by finding sticks that have a Y shape on one end. This is important to use as the entrance and exit of the lean-to. The length of the Y branches will impact the height of your shelter. Similarly sized branches are ideal. Once you have found two Y branches your next task will be to find the main trunk. The main trunk is the pole that lies on the top of the Y branches. Assembling the frame of the shelter is quite simple. Place the Y shaped branches leaning against the chosen object at approximately a 45 degree angle. The Ys should be pointing upwards. Lay the main trunk atop the Y branches securely. If you think you need to use vines or twine to secure them in place this wouldn’t hurt. The next step is to fill in the spaces formed by the frame. Once you have filled in the gaps with smaller branches you will begin to fill in the remaining spaces. Leaves, brush, moss, and twigs are great resources to fill in the gaps.
Advantages: Lean-tos are fairly easy to construct compared to other techniques. They also seem to be more durable than A frame shelters.
Disadvantages: Although these shelters are relatively easy to make they do require a lot of natural materials, especially if you are trying to make it waterproof. It also can be tricky if you want more than one person to occupy the shelter. They tend to be on the smaller side.
A snow cave is essentially an igloo. An igloo is most commonly constructed by stacking blocks of ice and snow on top of each other. In the case of a snow cave you are not stacking blocks. Instead you are digging into a snow pile and hollowing out the inside.
Construction: Even though the construction of a snow cave shelter may seem self explanatory there are a few things to keep in mind. When deciding the size of the entrance you’ll want it to be wide enough so you are not squeezing through. If you dig in a T shape it may be easier to get the dimensions you prefer. If you are planning to block the entrance once you are inside you’ll want to be sure you include ventilation holes in your design.
Advantages: An obvious advantage is that this shelter is ideal for snowy environments. Despite being made in a snow bank it actually traps heat pretty well.
Disadvantages: The amount of snow needed to construct a snow cave is pretty high. You’ll need at least 12 to 24 inches of snow on the side walls for this to be an effective shelter. In addition, there is always the slight risk of the cave collapsing if there are especially strong winds or the shelter is poorly built.
The debris hut shelter is very similar to the A frame. It uses a larger amount of natural materials for insulation.
Construction: As previously stated you will start by making the frame the same way you would as an A frame shelter. The differences come after you have constructed the ridge pole and the ribs. Instead of just loading up on various sized sticks and branches you will be adding a larger variety of materials to the outside. You are quite literally using debris. Leaves, moss, and various plant life are great resources to use as filler. The more layers you have the better.
Advantages: This particular shelter is usually pretty quick to assemble since you using whatever materials are around you. In addition, it tends to keep you warmer because you will have such a thick filler.
Disadvantages: A debris hut will not last several days. Due to the fact that you are using a wide variety of natural materials you risk that the leaves, moss etc. will be blown away if there are exceptionally high winds.
Now that you know the top 5 most common bushcraft shelter techniques you can start practicing. Deciding which is the most effective and beneficial will depend on your situation, but it’s a good idea to have the knowledge of how to construct various types. If you have a favorite bushcraft shelter technique be sure to comment below and tell us why!