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Stories of survival in the wilderness are not uncommon.
You might have heard of the 30-year-old Tyson Steele who survived the harsh cold of the Alaskan wilderness for three weeks before being rescued.
He initially sheltered in a snow cave and then put together a tent from scrap material.
There’s a lot in the rest of Tyson’s story that indicates he had plenty of knowledge about how to build a survival shelter, most of which he says he learned by being in the outdoors and watching Youtube videos.
What would happen to you if you were in Tyson’s position? Freeze?
Hopefully not. But your survival would depend on your ability to make a cold weather survival shelter.
This article will save you the freezing fate by telling you how you can make or identify a natural extreme weather survival shelter.
We also tell you about the skills you need to learn so you can make your emergency shelter and the type of survival shelter that works best in different survival situations.
Let’s get you started with a quick overview of survival shelters.
Extreme weather survival shelters in the wilderness include any structure that occurs naturally or which is purposely erected to protect you from the hostile effects of harsh weather conditions.
These shelters will also protect you from wild animals, insect bites, or other dangers that would befall if you were exposed in the open.
Whether you find yourself stuck in the wilderness under extreme weather by accident or you are in the woods by choice for a leisure escapade, knowing how to build a survival shelter could be your life-saving ticket.
But, staying alive is not the only benefit of survival shelters.
Especially if you are in the wilderness on a relaxation or adventure trip, having a survival shelter will help you enjoy your trip better if you know that you have a place to return to and protect yourself from extreme heat, cold, wind, or rain.
If your survival need is instead an emergency, having a shelter sustains your motivation to come out of the situation alive against all odds.
If having a shelter is so crucial, learning some basic skills for making a survival shelter is equally essential. So, what basic skills should you have?
If you're interested in bunkers and underground shelters, check out our guide on survival shelters for your home.
Here are some of the basic skills you should acquire to help in creating survival shelters in the wilderness.
If you find yourself in the wilderness and in need of a survival shelter, you’ll have to make do with what you have.
This means utilizing material that is available in the wilderness to make a shelter and keep yourself warm or protect yourself from heat. Take snow, for example, we always think that snow is cold. But snow can help you stay warm and survive as we shall be showing you later.
Other ways you can improvise shelters include:
Unless you are going for a planned escapade and are willing to bring a heavy load of nails, knowing how to tie knots is indispensable when it comes to making a survival shelter.
There are many types of knots that you can make depending on the function you want them to serve. Here is a list of the most useful survival knots:
If you want to practice you knots, we recommend you invest in some paracod and check out our guide on how to use paracord in survival scenarios.
For more detailed video guides on essential knots for shelters and tarp setups, check out this video from MCQ Bushcraft & Wilderness Life.
Lashing secures two poles together, usually at a right angle (square lashing). But diagonal lashing can also be done.
There are several uses for a lashing:
When you are lost or stuck in the wilderness, getting help is part of survival. You can include signs that will draw attention to rescuers when making survival shelters.
Here are some rescue signal examples:
With these skills, you can now learn how to build a shelter step-by-step.
These steps include: identifying a suitable spot, assessing your shelter needs, and making the appropriate survival shelter.
While you can build a wilderness shelter with just natural resources, your job will definitely be harder without some survival tools. We encourage you have a look over our wilderness survival kit for our bushcraft gear recommendations.
Identifying an appropriate spot for your shelter is crucial. Certain factors should be born in mind when choosing a spot.
With your shelter spot identified, you will then need to assess your shelter needs.
To decide on the type of survival shelter that you need, you will need to assess your shelter needs.
Here are some of the questions that you should answer.
This question will be assessing whether your shelter is a hideout or one intended for easy spotting, if it a short-term or long-term protection shelter from the elements, or if it is a temporary residence during a get-away escapade in the wilderness.
If you are with another person, you’ll need to make a shelter with more space.
However, keep just the minimum space that lets you be comfortable since extra space will mean more difficulty to preserve the heat in cold weather.
If you are a group, make more shelters with a few people in each.
If you cannot make an insulated survival shelter that will naturally protect you from cold, making a fire will be necessary.
Also, if it is extremely windy, you will need to make a wind barrier a meter or so from your shelter.
If it’s rainy, you will need to find a spot with natural roofing or make a shelter with dense roofing to keep away the rain.
If the storm is already announced, you may have barely 10 minutes to create a shelter.
In such a case, you are better off finding a natural survival shelter near you such as secure caves or strong trees with thick canopies.
With more time, build a shelter that is strong enough to withstand the elements.
Referring back to the improvising skill, opt for a survival shelter that can be made with the resources available around you.
The Australian Government advises that you use survival shelter resources that do not require much physical effort to obtain while at the same time ensuring you make a strong shelter that keeps you safe.
With the spot for the shelter identified and the shelter needs already evaluated, you can now choose one of the types of survival shelters from the wilderness survival shelter designs below.
These 11 types of shelter in the wilderness will either protect you from the cold in winter, shield you from the heat in hot weather, keep you dry when it rains, or offer protection from insects and animals.
Lean-to shelters are quick and easy to make. They can be just single-sided or double lean-to. Single-sided lean-to shelters will shield you from wind and rain but not from cold.
Also, if rain or wind changes direction, the single-sided lean-to shelter can become impractical.
Double lean-to shelters are more effective. They will keep you from the rain and wind as long as they are done well.
How to make a lean to shelter:
If available, a tarp, emergency blanket, or poncho can be used to replace the branches and foliage.
Tarps are a survival item that we should always keep in our vehicles and carry in our backpacks every time we are out in the wilderness.
If we have to make a survival shelter, a good quality tarp like the Aqua Quest Defender Tarp will save us time and protect us from the extremes of weather elements.
Last update on 2021-03-07 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
You can make a simple tarp shelter, by tying a rope between two poles or trees and draping your tarp over the rope. To firm it, you can use pieces of cord to tie the corners of your tarp away from you.
This type of shelter will protect you from rain and wind but you might need to make a tarp teepee if you want to be protected from cold and wild animals.
A tarp teepee shelter is a good choice when you are in a group.
How to make a tarp teepee shelter:
Since they offer more space, you can make a fire inside the tarp teepee shelter. If you do, leave the entrance open to avoid carbon monoxide intoxication.
This quick video from National Geographic will give you a practical idea of how to make a tarp teepee shelter.
Just like the lean-to shelter, the A-frame shelter is easy and quick to make and uses materials that are readily available in the wilderness.
The name describes the A-shape that the shelter takes at the entrance. The shelter will protect you from wind and rain but you might need a fire at the entrance to generate some heat and keep warm.
Just don’t make it too close to the entrance to avoid intoxication.
How to make an a frame lean to shelter:
To be sure no water gets in and create some insulation, you can drape a garbage bag over the horizontal post before adding the wall posts and the foliage.
You can also make a log-bed on the floor and cover it with dry leaves.
This video from Naturally Primitive gives you the detailed process of making an A-frame shelter step-by-step.
Snow acts as an insulating material because of its density and also due to the air that’s trapped in the flakes.
Loose snow has more insulating capacity because it traps more air and so preserves more heat. You can use snow to make any of these types of snow shelters.
The purpose of a snow trench is to create an insulating shelter against both cold and wind. There are two ways to make a snow trench.
First, if you can access compacted snow, you can cut it into blocks, arrange them on the ground in two parallel lines and use more blocks to cover the top and create the trench.
This will, however, require you to have a survival knife or saw that you can use to cut out the blocks.
The second method requires you to dig out a trench, cover it with poles to create the base for the roofing, and then use tree boughs and leaves before creating an insulating top layer with snow.
This method requires less energy than having to cut out snow blocks. Since the ground is moist, the trench can be dug with a stick. The trench must be long enough to cover your body.
This snow survival shelter is made by creating a hollow in a large pile of snow. There are different ways of building a snow cave for survival, but here we describe one of them.
Usually, wind can cause snow to drift and collect into a huge pile in one location. This could serve as the stack for your snow cave when you have to make an emergency shelter in winter.
Alternatively, you can pile up the snow and follow these steps on how to make a snow cave:
If you stay in the snowy wilderness for more than a night, a more stable snow survival shelter like the igloo is required.
See a different and interesting approach to building a snow cave in this video from Ray Mears on the BBC Studios channel.
An igloo takes longer to create than other winter camping shelters but will last you for more than a night as long as temperatures do not rise and melt it.
You also need some tools including a shovel, and a sharp survival knife or saw to cut out snow blocks.
Creating a snow igloo works where there is a good amount of compact snow.
Here’s how to make an igloo shelter:
A tree pit is another winter survival shelter that you can consider. With this type of shelter, you already have the basic structure for your shelter naturally done for you.
It means that you find a tree whose trunk is buried a few feet by snow. You then dig out the snow around the tree trunk to create a hollow and cover the bottom with pine boughs and leaves to create an insulation bed.
You are already covered by the tree’s canopy but you’ll need to use branches and leaves to cover the top of the pit. This will preserve the heat inside and prevent any snow on the tree falling on you.
A debris hut survival shelter is an optimal short-term survival solution. They take little time to make and will protect you from the elements.
You only need a stick frame, a thick debris wall, and a debris bed.
Here are the simple steps on how to make a debris shelter:
Desert survival shelters are the most difficult to create. This is because there is hardly any natural material to create a shelter.
But what if you found yourself stuck in a desert anyway? How do you protect yourself from the wind and heat of the bare land?
The most you have for resources to make a survival shelter in a desert is the desert shrubs. If you are lucky, you might find some greener foliage around an oasis.
You may also find some cactus or other desert succulent plants. But you need shelter because the heat is draining and the temperatures may fall drastically in the night.
A good way to survive in the desert is by making a trench shelter. Here’s how to make a trench shelter:
If you were lucky to bring a tarp you can use it to make an open shelter but that will not protect you much from the cold desert nights.
Emergency dugout shelters are all-purpose. It means that they will not only protect you from the elements but also wild animals.
They are also great if you are looking for a survival hideout.
See a practical example on how to build a dugout shelter in this video from Primitive Lifeways.
Follow these steps to learn how to make a dug out survival shelter:
If your stay in the wilderness is long, you can use wood to make your dugout shelter like a little hut, both for the walls and the roofing.
You’ll need to improvise some type of cordage to tie the wood together. You can then use grass and debris to cover up your shelter.
A hammock survival shelter is a variation of the tarp shelter. It is best used in the jungle where survival includes keeping away from creepy animals and insects.
To make a hammock shelter, you will need to bring along a camping hammock like the Wise Owl Outfitters Hammock Camping Double & Single with Tree Straps or opt for one with anti-insect netting like the Single & Double Camping Hammock with Mosquito/Bug Net.
Last update on 2021-03-07 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Last update on 2021-03-07 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
With these hammocks, all you need to do is hook them to strong branches on two trees and you have your shelter done for the night.
If you have a tarp, you can also improvise to make a hammock shelter. Simply suspend your tarp by tying the corners to four strong trees.
This design will require you to have some kind of bedding especially if it is cold.
Fallen or standing trees can save you time if you have to make an emergency survival shelter. You can do this in different ways.
One way is by using the bark of a fallen tree as support for your shelter. In this case, you will collect sticks and foliage and lean the sticks on the fallen tree to create the ribs of your shelter.
You then cover the sticks with foliage and debris to keep out rain and the cold breeze.
A fireplace near the shelter will keep you warm. Just be sure to shield it from foliage with some mud so it does not cause a wildfire.
If the fallen tree is lying too low, you can use some rocks or logs to lift it on the slimmer side.
Another way you can use a tree is by identifying a large-trunk tree and using it as support for the sticks you use to make a shelter.
You will still use twigs and leaves to make the roofing, but one advantage with this is that the branches of the tree already provide some shield if it should rain.
A common form of tree shelter is the juniper tree survival shelter. The juniper or cedar tree has cone-shaped leaves and a dense trunk.
Since it is known as a tree that can be easily transformed into a natural shelter, you may find one that has already been used by others and simply adapt it to fit your need.
If you find a juniper tree that is bent over like the one in the below image, you can simply use some of its branches to create a lean-to or a double lean-to shelter. Its soft foliage will also make a comfortable bed on the floor of your juniper tree shelter.
If your emergency survival scenario escalates into a disaster situation or crisis, it is time you considered a long-term survival shelter.
This will cost you a lot of time and energy and you’ll need to have learned some keys skills beforehand.
A reliable design you can consider is a log cabin.
Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to make a log cabin:
If you have enough space, you can create a fireplace with rocks inside the shelter or place it at the entrance.
If you are in a last-minute survival situation – say you are lost and have not time to make a real shelter because it is getting dark or it’s going to rain in the next few minutes – naturally appearing survival shelters are your quickest option, even though that depends on whether you can find one.
The easiest natural shelter you can find is a tree with low-lying foliage.
Some trees like the spruce and the pine have extremely dense canopies and will remain completely dry after a storm.
Sheltering under such trees will save you from getting wet and losing the insulation from your clothing.
Low lying trees with dense foliage can also keep you from direct exposure to falling snow and create a natural snow cave with insulation from the snow on the leaves.
Another naturally appearing survival shelter is a cave.
Caves will protect you from all the weather elements including cold, heat, rain, and wind.
Since temperatures stabilize a few feet under the ground, a cave will keep you warm in winter and cool in summer.
Because of their natural structure, caves would also make a perfect winter survival shelter with a fireplace. You do not risk burning the materials used to make the shelter as in the case of other survival shelters
The only problems you may have with caves are flooding, getting infested by animals like bats, or collapsing. It’s important to assess the cave for these dangers before making it your survival habitat.
Also, always stay as close as possible to the entrance in case you have to escape from an emergency situation.
Other types of naturally appearing survival shelters include thickets, hollow trees, and rock overhangs among others.
If you find yourself in the wilderness, whether you are lost or are there for a planned escapade, protecting yourself from the extremes of weather elements is crucial.
This means learning some skills for making extreme weather survival shelters before you find yourself in a survival situation.
Identifying an appropriate situation and knowing your wilderness survival shelter needs will precede your choice for a specific survive shelter design.
You can then choose snow shelters such as a snow cave in winter, dig a trench in the earth if you are in a desert, or make an a frame shelter in the jungle.
Whichever choice you make, surviving the extremes of weather is your ultimate purpose, which makes the strain of making the survival shelter worth the effort.