A shelter is one of the most important aspects of survival. Without a shelter, an extended time in the wilderness can be unkind and even a life-threatening experience. Learning and practicing building shelters is a good skill to have under your belt just in case you encounter an emergency beyond the reach of civilization.


Using a fallen tree, limbs and bows is a great way to make a shelter using your surroundings. Placing limbs at a vertical slant on a fallen tree will allow the rain water to run down the limbs, keeping you dry. Placing the bows on top of the limbs will add insulation, cover and help to camouflage you. (1)

You can easily use two branches and a tree, all tied together, to make a simple shelter. Secure your tarp or space blanket to the front sticks, then run the tarp over the other stick, down the back and over the ground underneath you. This will keep you protected from the moisture and dampness of the ground, provide you with cover on one side and allow you to retain the heat from your fire. This is a small, one-man structure, but the smaller your structure is overall, the easier it is to heat. (2)

If you are unable to find a fallen tree to secure things to, you can secure a limb to two trees and create your own supports for your tarp. Using pine bows underneath your tarp provides additional comfort. We have swapped out our tarps for reusable space blankets due to their reflective nature, which will benefit with the reflective heat they provide. (3)

When you don’t have any gear, it is really important to evaluate your surroundings and utilize your surroundings. This is also where knowing how to make a fire using primitive methods, such as a bow drill, hand drill or plow method, could save your life. You also need to utilize what you have on your person. You could use your shoelaces as a last resort for securing a structure or for use with a fire-building bow drill.

Train yourself to develop a keen eye to utilize junk or scrap materials you may find in your surroundings, such as scrap tin, old vehicles, pieces of tarps, barrels or whatever you may find. Utilizing hollow stumps, caves and natural provisions is key as well. Building your shelter against a thick wall of trees can give you added security. (4) Being resourceful can be an extreme asset.


A lightweight tarp, poncho or space blanket can also be a useful piece of equipment that can easily be used in a variety of ways to build a shelter.(5)

A multi-tool is your lifesaver. Depending on the design you choose, this is something you can carry regularly to provide you with a number of tools that can aid in the building of a long-term shelter, such as a screw driver, saw, wire cutter or firestarter. Use of a multi-tool will allow you to provide your family with fancier accommodations than the norm.

In addition to this, try to have at least 9 feet of paracord, a pocket knife and a field knife, a lighter, a firearm, a water bottle and a non-reusable space blanket. When out hunting, hiking or even gathering firewood, carry at least a day pack, which includes a Kershaw foldable saw and a camp axe, giving you the essentials to build a shelter in case a disaster strikes.

Creativity, staying calm and carefully analyzing your surroundings play a big role in existing in the outdoors, and even more so in a survival situation. Get out in the woods and practice. Practice building a shelter, and while you are out there work on your fire-making skills because a shelter and fire go hand in hand. Knowledge is power and these are two skills you don’t want to have to learn on the fly. Staying warm and dry are the two most critical components of a comfortable stay in the wilds. Practicing these skills now will make an unexpected stay in the wilderness a lot more pleasant.

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This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE™ Fall 2015 edition. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.

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