Forgot the tent? Stranded in the forest? Want to test your survival skills? Knowing how to build a shelter in the wilderness is something that will take your camping skills to the next level – and make you feel that little bit more badass.
While a shelter can be easily constructed in the wilderness with a piece of rope and a tarpaulin, this guide is slightly more rough and ready than that. Knowing how to build a shelter with the bare minimum available will put you in good stead when it comes to those ‘oh, I forgot the tent!’ moments.
While you obviously can’t predict when you’ll be stranded in the wilderness without a tent (because if you could, you’d obviously just pack a tent!), I recommend giving this a try in a non-emergency situation.
I’m going to give you three different types of shelters, all with their own pros and cons which can be practised at home.
Choose the Right Ground
You may think that while stranded in the wilderness, you don’t have a lot of options. Luckily you do, and the ground you choose to build your shelter on is one of those choices that can make or break your experience.
Ideally, the ground should be dry, flat, not near a body of water and away from cliffs or falling rocks. A shelter on a slope will invite in rainwater if it starts to rain.
Here’s how to build the 3 most popular shelters.
The A-Frame Shelter
A-frame shelters are great short term options. They are both fast and easy to build, and will comfortably keep one person warm and dry against the elements.
- Step 1: Find one long, sturdy branch a few feet longer than your own height
- Step 2: Prop the end of the branch on a tree stump, log, fallen trees or on two shorter branches
- Step 3: Gather plenty of shorter branches and lean them up against the longer branch. Try to keep them as close together as possible.
- Step 4: Gather leaves, more branches and other brush. Lay these over the top of the branches to cover the gaps and keep the warmth in.
There you have it, your very own (although very basic), A-frame shelter!
The Tipi Shelter
The Tipi shelter is a firm favourite. It’s fun to build, great for larger groups and relatively simple to set up.
The downsides however are that they aren’t very resistant to the wind (due to their high, vertical shape) and don’t stay as warm as the A-frame due to their increased size.
They also require a lot more branches, so not the best option if you are short on time or it’s getting dark.
- Step 1: Gather three long branches of roughly the same length. If you have a rope, tie these together to make a tripod-style frame. If you don’t, you can prop the branches against a tree.
- Step 2: Lean more long branches against the tripod frame, remembering to leave a gap for the doorway!
- Step 3: Continue to add a variety of sized branches to cover the gaps in the frame
- Step 4: Cover the frame with leafy branches which won’t blow as much in the wind as brush.
- Step 5: Strengthen the frame and add some extra warmth by adding more branches to the outside.
The Lean-To Shelter
Finally, we’ve got the lean-to shelter which is one of the most popular types of shelter in any survival situation.
The Lean-To shelter is roomy, both easy and fast to make, and is more suitable as a long-term shelter than Tipi or A-frames. If you build a fire outside the shelter (although not too close) the heat will bounce off the walls and keep you warm inside.
However, you do need rope to build this shelter and it doesn’t offer a huge amount of wind protection unless you build a separate wind screen on the outside.
- Step 1: Find two trees around 8 feet apart (or less if you are on the short side!)
- Step 2: Find a sturdy branch which is slightly longer than the distance between the two trees
- Step 3: Using your rope or bendy branches, tie the branch between the two trees. If you’re lucky, you may have little stumps on the trees which you can prop the branch on
- Step 4: Work out which way the wind is blowing and lay smaller branches across the main branch so that they will block the wind
- Step 5: Continue to layer branches across the frame, covering the gaps with sticks, brush and debris to keep it warm you warm. Adding smaller branches on top of the debris will prevent the leaves from being blown away
- Step 6: For added survival points, build yourself a fire just outside the shelter. Surround the fire with stones (which you can later use to keep warm)
While knowing how to build a shelter from scratch is a great skill to have, there’s a few precautions you can take to ensure you will never need to use it!
Taking a mobile phone with you, telling someone where you are going and keeping an eye on the weather before you leave will help you stay safe in the wilderness. Either that, or just pack yourself a tent!