Survival Basics, Survival Situations, Survival Tips

How to Build a Shelter in the Desert

Over one third of the Earth’s landscape is desert. There’s a good chance that you’ll find yourself in one of these areas some day. Deserts can be a dangerous place so knowing how to survive in these areas is a necessity. With this being said it’s important to know how to build a shelter in the desert. Having proper shelter is a basic life need. Even in the best of conditions you will need to have a shelter. Since deserts can have extreme temperatures and other dangerous conditions it’s even more vital to be able to protect yourself from the elements. Here are some basic tips for creating a shelter in the desert.

Build a Trench

You may be surprised to learn that over 750 species of animals live in the desert. Many of them survive the harsh environment by spending most of their time underground. By imitating these animals’ survival technique you can build yourself a trench for shelter. Yes, digging a hole in the ground can serve as a shelter if done properly. You can dig several feet into the ground and should dig it long enough to lay down in comfortably. The deeper you go the cooler in temperature it will get. You should be very cautious of digging this trench in the desert heat. It may take a lot out of you so be sure to plan accordingly. The easiest way to dig a trench is by using the survival shovel that you will be carrying in your survival kit. If you are unsure what tools you should always carry in your kit check out this article here.

Cover & Secure the Trench

Simply digging a trench will not be enough to ensure your safety in the desert. You will also need to cover the trench to aid in beating the heat and other elements. If you happen to have a tarp in your gear (which you should!), then you can use that to cover your trench. If you forgot your tarp you can use an item of clothing or large leaves, if available, to build a tarp over your trench. Once you have obtained a material or resource to cover your hole you’ll want to secure it somehow. You may not know this but the wind can get extremely strong in the desert. You will most definitely need to secure your tarp. Use stakes if you have them. Heavy stones or sticks will also work in a pinch. Get creative if you have to.

Build a Mound

The sand or dirt you’ve dug up from the trench will also serve as useful. Use the excess matter to form a mound on three sides of your hole. One side will allow for entering and exiting freely. The sand along the other sides will help protect you from blowing debris. It will also provide a longer shadow.

Provide Airflow

It’s obvious that you will need ample airflow through the trench for survival. Humans cannot survive without oxygen. You should not place the tarp right on top of the trench with no ventilation. When thinking about how to secure the tarp (or other materials used instead) you should be sure that it is elevated slightly. Using stakes can be a great solution. If you did not pack stakes in your survival kit then you can use sticks or rocks to help elevate as well as secure your tarp. Even though the trench shelter will help keep you from direct sunlight you will also need to be able to breathe.

Prepare for the Cold

Most people think of heat when describing the desert, and this is definitely a part of the environment, but did you know that the desert can also reach freezing temperatures overnight? If you do not have ample resources in your survival kit for the warmth you’ll want too think about re-purposing the tarp as a blanket at nighttime. You can also try scavenging for any type of plant of leaf that could be used to create a blanket of sorts.


Surviving in the desert is not an easy feat. Having the proper shelter will definitely increase your chances of surviving, and even thriving, in the desert. Having a proper shelter can be the difference between life or death so be sure you remember these tips if you ever find yourself in one of Earth’s many deserts.

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