Knowing how to build a survival shelter is a great addition to your skill set because there are no guarantees that you won’t ever get lost in the wild. Here’s how you can make yourself a small castle out of what the wilderness offers.
In this article:
- How to Build a Waterproof Shelter in the Woods
- How to Make a Shelter in the Woods with Nothing
- How to Build a Long Term Shelter in the Woods
- How to Make a Pocket Super Shelter
- How to Build a Winter Survival Shelter
Wilderness Survival Shelter Designs You Must Know
How to Build a Waterproof Shelter in the Woods
Your best bet for a waterproof shelter is to make one out of tarp. These instructions will help you make a wedge tarp shelter.
Step 1. Keep a Tarp and Some Cord Handy
You’ll usually need at least a 3×3 meter tarp to give you enough lying space and some 550 cord to prop the shelter up. The great thing about this is it’s relatively cheap, as you can buy a tarp for $10 to $20. If you already have a tarp in your garage, you won’t have to spend anything at all. Make sure you keep one in your car for emergency purposes.
Step 2. Pick Your Site
The best place to build your survival shelter is on flat ground in an elevated terrain. You don’t want to build in a low area like in a slope or the side of a hill, because all the water will come rushing down after rainfall and wash your camp out. Also, if you’re setting up near trees, make sure there aren’t any loose, dead branches that might fall on you or your shelter. Finally, build your shelter near some shrubs or bushes for cover from the wind or animals.
Step 3. Clean Up Your Shelter Grounds First
Remove any debris like sticks or rocks that’ll make lying down uncomfortable.
Step 4. Set Up Your Ridgeline
A ridgeline dictates how high your tarp survival shelter is going to be. To find out where your shelter’s ridgeline is going to be, sit down and set it just a few inches above your head. You don’t want to set that line up higher than that because you will be wasting space. You can fold a side into the inside to give you some dry space for your head or to put equipment on. A big-ass shelter will also be difficult to keep warm inside, especially if you’re relying on your own body heat.
Step 5. Tie the Cord Between Two Trees
Get your 550 cord and knot both ends to two trees. Make sure the height follows the ridgeline you’ve established.
Step 6. Put the Tarp Over the Cord
Now, you’ll want to place a third of the tarp over the cord. This will be like the front flap of your shelter. As for the other 2/3rds of the tarp, you can fold half into where your floor is going to be. Basically, your shelter is shaped like a triangle from the side.
Step 7. Prep Your Shelter’s Floor
You’ll want a layer of insulation between your butt and the ground for some comfort. Go and find some leaves, grass, old newspapers, and the like to cover your shelter floor. You can lay it on thick for more warmth and comfort.
Step 8. Find and Sharpen Stakes
Look for some twigs you can use as stakes to hold the tarp shelter down. If you have a knife handy, you can sharpen one end of each twig so you can easily impale them into the ground later. You need at least four stakes to hold down the four corners of your tarp.
Step 9. Stake Down the Front Flap of Your Shelter
Use some 550 cords and tie them onto the holes of the front flap of the tarp you’re using. Tie the other ends of the cords on the stakes and stake these down to pin each side of the tarp.
If you’re stuck in this part of the wilderness for a while, you can build walls on each side of your shelter and use your tarp to collect rainwater.
How to Make a Shelter in the Woods with Nothing
In case you don’t have any tools with you, you can craft a shelter by gathering materials in the area and using them to make a debris shelter. It ain’t as sturdy as a treehouse build or design, but it’ll serve you well.
Step 1. Survey Your Surroundings
Check out the terrain and get a sense of the resources in your area. You need to be aware of the foliage, the weather, and the amount of cover. You also need to take stock of what building materials you can use.
Step 2. Find a Campsite with a Natural Ridge Pole
Again, your campsite should be on level ground. Since you don’t have any tools to set up a ridgeline, find a collapsed or leaning tree which can serve as a natural one. Make sure it’s stable, as you’ll be making a basic A-frame shelter. Also, make sure to build your shelter in such a way that the wind is hitting its back instead of going through the front. Otherwise, you’ll need to cover the front entrance with more sticks and just remove the ones on the side so you can still go in and out as you please.
Step 3. Prep Your Shelter Grounds
If you see a good spot, take note of debris like dead branches or rocks and the amount of work you’ll have to do to clear them. Also, look up and check for widowmakers or dead branches that might fall on you if a strong wind blows. Start clearing the debris, but don’t throw anything away because you’ll use it all later on.
Step 4. Clean Up Your Ridgeline
Remove any twigs below the tree bark you’re using as your ridgeline because they might poke you in the eye later. Keep the ones protruding above because you can use them to balance other twigs you’ll use to build supports or roofing for your shelter.
Step 5. Build the Walls for Your Shelter
Start at the bottom of your ridge pole. Just use the smallest pair of sticks first and place each one on each side of the pole. You’ll want to lean the stick on the pole in a forward position meaning they are slightly angled towards the elevated end of the pole.
Step 6. Find Materials to Cover the Gaps in the Walls
You’ll need to find suitable materials to fill in the gaps in your walls. Smaller twigs or dead leaves can serve this function. Better yet, if you see moss-laden ground, you can peel off this mossy turf by digging your hands and rolling it.
Step 7. Lay Out the Turf or Materials on the Outside Walls of the Shelter
You can just unfurl the mossy turf and then begin covering the gaps in your A-frame shelter. What’s awesome about the moss is it will give you some protection from the wind and the rain. In time, the moss will also grow over your shelter and help it decompose. Any of the moss you’ve pulled will also regrow in time.
Step 8. Make Final Adjustments
Just clear the floor of your shelter and add insulation to it, like dead leaves. Again, the more insulation, the more comfortable you’ll be.
How to Build a Long Term Shelter in the Woods
If you’re in the woods or the jungle for far longer than you’ve anticipated, you can make a tipi-like structure called a wikiup.
Step 1. Prepare the Tools
Make sure you have a knife and some 550 cord so you can lash branches together.
Step 2. Clear the Area
Start clearing away any debris in the area you’ve chosen. Much like the other shelters, make sure there are no widowmakers stuck in the trees and you’re building on level ground that’s protected from flooding after rain. This shelter is relatively big, so clear a 12 x 12-meter section.
Step 3. Make a Tripod Support Structure
Unlike the wedge tarp shelter or the A-frame debris shelter, the ridgeline for a wikiup is higher. You’ll need to find tree poles that are taller than you to use for the tripod frame of your shelter. Lash their ends together using rope or strong vines. You can use rocks and pile them at the base of each pole to keep them from falling apart initially. Make sure the two frames which form the outline of your door isn’t situated in the direction the wind is coming from. Doing so will help keep the rain or the draft from coming into your shelter.
Step 4. Build the Walls
Start looking for slightly thinner wooden branches or poles you can use to make walls. Lean each pole on your tripod structure until your wikiup is covered, save its entrance. Find some vines and interweave them through the gaps between each pole as to bind them and to strengthen the integrity of the shelter.
Step 5. Thatch the Wikiup Up
In ancient times, people used animal hide to fill in the gaps of a wikiup and to protect the inside from the elements. But you can reasonably make a good cover out of dead leaves, branches with fresh leaves, or moss. Just make sure you thatch all the gaps to keep the cold out and to prevent the heat from escaping.
Step 6. Make Your Bed
Now, it’s time to prepare the flooring for your shelter. Again, much like the other two, scavenge for some leaves you can use as insulation. The same rules apply: you’ll want a lot of leaves so you’ll be more comfortable.
Step 7. Put Some Finishing Touches
Finally, you’ve got a standing wikiup but you’ll have to make a few more adjustments. Strengthen the whole structure by adding a few more poles. You can also add more cover in case there are still some unpatched gaps. Some wikiup designs integrate a debris shelter on the side as an additional and drier sleeping area in case of heavy rainfall. Make sure you avoid making a firepit too close if you don’t want to light this bad boy up.
How to Make a Pocket Super Shelter
In case you want something concealed, here’s a dugout shelter design army personnel use when they’re out in arid terrains like the desert.
Step 1. Prepare the Tools
You’ll need a knife and a shovel for this one.
Step 2. Find the Right Site
You absolutely do not want to find yourself in a dugout trench in a flood-prone area so build someplace high. A dugout trench can be built in open terrain so you need to worry about widowmakers unless, of course, there are trees. Finally, since this is essentially a hole in the ground, it’s not really an effective cover when the rains come in. You can use a tarp on the roof to provide a measure of protection against the rain for a limited time.
Step 3. Dig a Trench
You’ll want to dig around 2 to 3 feet in width and 6-8 feet in length and around 2-3 feet in depth.
Step 4. Make the Beddings
After digging your pit or your trench, it’s time to find insulation to make lying down comfortable. You’ll want this layer around 6 inches thick for the best result.
Step 5. Find Branches or Sticks
You’ll need sticks, which will serve as the supports for your shelter’s roofing. Basically, you need sticks which are longer than 3 feet for them to serve their purpose well.
Step 6. Lay Out the Roof
Once you have enough sticks, you’ll have to lay them out perpendicular to your trench. These sticks will serve as roof beams for your dugout shelter.
Step 7. Thatch Your Roof
Afterward, you’ll need a layer of insulation that you’ll lay out perpendicular to the sticks. Branches with fresh leaves, moss, or grass can work as materials for this. You’ll have to weave them into the gaps of the support beams. Make sure you patch each hole so you’re better protected from the elements. Constantly reinforce this part with your chosen material as you go along.
Step 8. Widen the Entrance
Once you’re done with the roofing, you’ll need to dig out the entrance and make it larger. Scoop out the earth or the sand so you’ll have a nice gentle slope going into your dugout.
Step 9. Cover the Roof
For better concealment, you’ll want to cover the roof of your dugout. Use the dirt you’ve accumulated when digging out the trench to cover your roof. Carefully pack the dirt and work it in until the thatch is covered.
How to Build a Winter Survival Shelter
If you find yourself lost in an icy wasteland, you can build yourself an igloo to stave off the wind and the cold for the time being.
Step 1. Find the Right Site
The same principles as the other shelters remain true, but in icy terrain, make sure you build somewhere that’s not prone to avalanches. Find a site on a slope with some cover and that’s free from wild animals.
Step 2. Draw a Circle on the Ground
Ideally, you have a cord tied around a spoke impaled in the middle of the circle to serve as a guide. Get a stick, attach it to the cord, and draw a circle on the snow with a diameter around 7 inches long. This will dictate the size of your igloo.
Step 3. Dig Through the Circle
Use a shovel to dig through the interior of the circle. You’ll want this empty space to be around 2-3 meters thick.
Step 4. Hollow Out the Inside of the Circle
In one side of the circle, dig a deeper pit which will allow you to stand in. Use a saw or a knife to cut blocks out of the snow around this narrow pit until you hollow out the entire circle. Save the blocks you cut off.
Step 5. Firm Up the Outside Rim of the Circle
Tamp down the snow on that outer ring and make sure it’s firm. Take the end of your cord and make sure parts of this layer are of equal height.
Step 6. Lay the First Layer of Ice Blocks
Get an ice block and lay down on its longer side and then take another block and lay it close. Before you join them, make sure you cut the end of the first block using the end of the cord as a guide to make sure each end aligns toward the center of the circle. Once you have a ring, cut the top portion in such a way that the top parts slope toward the middle of the inner circle. You can use the cord to find the right angle to cut this part. Make sure one block is taller than the rest as this will serve as your anchor block for the next layer.
Step 7. Lay Out the Second Layer
After you finish the first layer, ensure that you’ve cut a second contact point for the bigger block so it fuses well with the previous layer and the following layer. Place the blocks and make sure they are angled slightly inwards to the center of the inner circle. You can use the cord as a guide to finding the right angle for each block.
Step 8. Cut Out the Entrance
You’ll possibly be out of snow blocks so dig out an entrance from inside the circle. Make sure to choose a strong, stable side to keep your work from caving in.
Step 9. Reinforce the Layers from the Outside
Get some wedges of snow and carefully tamp them on the gaps of each snow block to strengthen and fuse the layers together.
Step 10. Dig Out More Blocks
You’ll have to find another area to source your snow blocks. So, once again, dig a pit in the snow deep enough for you to stand in. Start cutting out snow blocks with your saw.
Step 11. Lay Out the Layers
Make sure you start with a good anchor point as you begin laying each new block. The blocks might not hold so you’ll need to use some sticks or poles to hold them up while they’re fusing with the other layers. Once you’re finished with a layer, go outside and fill the gaps with ice wedges. Do this until only the layers reach shoulder level and the hole in the center fits the size of your head.
Step 12. Cover the Hole
Cover the hole in the middle with a capstone block. Cut the corners of this capstone block so they slope into the ends of the last layer. Go out and then add snow wedges on the gaps in this capstone block carefully.
Step 13. Work on the Entrance
Weathers got you looking for shelter?
— National Film Board (@thenfb) January 22, 2018
You can wide the entrance to the igloo a bit and then make a cover for the entrance by pitting a pair of blocks against one another and running the saw at the point where their ends meet. You can add two pairs of ice blocks beside the first pair to make an arch over the entrance. Fill the gaps with snow wedges and some tamped snow. And now you have an igloo to protect you against the harsh cold.
To know more about Pocket Super Shelter, watch this video by MerkWares:
Now you know how to build a survival shelter. If you familiarize yourself with these survival shelter plans, you can carve out space where you’ll be safe from the elements in jungles, forests, deserts, and icy terrains. When it’s you versus nature, you’ll be glad you know how to make shelter until help comes along.
What other survival skills would you want to know? Let us know in the comments section below.
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