7 Survival Shelters You Need to Learn How to Build

Modern conveniences have allowed us to manipulate our living spaces to suit our comfort. Out in the wild, however, the elements can be harsh. Following the survival rule of threes, you can only last for 3 hours without proper shelter before succumbing to hypothermia, dehydration, or both.

While a prepper never goes without camping supplies in their pack, you may encounter instances where you’d have limited access to modern camping supplies. In these situations, knowing how to make survival shelters from natural materials will be a valuable skill.

Let’s get right to it:

Choosing a Survival Shelter Location

man in a suit on the lookout for survival shelters

Choosing the location for your survival shelter is crucial. Here are some basic guidelines:

Choose a dry location

A dry location lessens the threat of hypothermia. Less moisture also means you can make a fire to keep you warm. This location must be relatively flat as well. 

Choose a location that offers natural protection against the elements

A location that lends some cover against rain or harsh wind is ideal. Examples of this are rock formations or the area underneath a tree.

Choose a location away from potential threats

Choosing to camp very near a water source may seem like a good idea, but take note that water attracts animals and insects. Take note that water levels could also rise later in the day. Pick an area located a comfortable distance from water sources—far enough from threats but accessible enough if you need some hydration.

Types of Survival Shelters

Once you’ve established your location, it’s time to build your shelter. Take note that these survival shelters are made for short-term use. They’re not meant to stand the test of time, but they can offer you warmth and temporary protection against the elements or predators until you can get out of the area.

Here are 7 survival shelters you can make:

Open Shelter/ Lean-To Shelter

A lean-to shelter is popular for being one of the easiest shelters to set up.

This free-standing structure has three walls, with the open side ideally facing away from the prevailing wind. You can use materials like wood, twigs, a tarp, or a poncho to construct a basic lean-to.

The idea is to construct a sloped roof against a central beam supported by a pair of strong poles. Outdoor Life suggests selecting a location where the supports and beam can lean against trees or other structures. The steep angle allows rain or snow to slide off the shelter. Bark slabs or a tarp further prevent moisture from penetrating the roof.

A-Frame Shelter

A double lean-to is otherwise known as an A-Frame shelter. An A-Frame, as its name suggests, is an A-shaped structure made up of the main ridge pole that runs along the top, with two walls on each side. They can be freestanding, or you can prop the ridgepole against a tree to save time.

To build an A-frame, measure your ridgepole so that it covers the entire length of your body. For the ribs (the main branches that support the walls of your A-Frame), you can use sturdy branches and twigs. Make sure that they are strong enough not to snap or cave in. You can fill and thatch the spaces between the ribs using more leaves, bushes, or pine boughs.

You can also use a tarp or anything water-resistant to keep your shelter from getting soaked.

Dugout Shelter

A dugout shelter involves digging a trench in the ground. The trench should be as long as you are tall and around 3 feet deep. After digging, you can cover the top of the trench with large branches, layering it with foliage, debris, or a tarp to conserve heat.

Teepee Shelter

A teepee is a cone-shaped shelter that you can build around a slim tree or a long pole. The idea is to make a tripod and lash other poles around it to build a shelter.

To build this shelter, you must keep adding pairs of poles of the same size. Tie or join them together at the top, making sure that your base is wide and tall enough for your physique.

Fallen Tree Shelter

Fallen trees make for great natural survival shelters. The flat base of the root can function as one wall of a shelter that can protect you from wind and reflect heat. In an ideal situation, you can also use the tree’s bark and leaves to make kindling.

Make sure that the tree won’t fall further onto you and that it is located in a dry area.

Debris Hut Shelter

A debris hut is a type of body heat shelter that involves creating a mound using debris like dirt, leaves, and twigs to trap body heat. This type of shelter is compact, with a hole just big enough to crawl into. To conserve body heat, the opening to this type of shelter would have to be covered to block off the airflow.

Snow Shelter

A snow shelter is also considered a body heat shelter in colder climates. The idea is the same as a debris hut shelter, but instead of dirt and leaves, you use snow.

The success of this survival shelter depends on the location and consistency of the snow. Snow that easily packs and compresses will give you a stronger structure, so look for places where a big snow drift has accumulated. This guide illustrates other great tips for building various snow survival shelters.

Final Thoughts

Like most survival skills, practice makes your survival shelter perfect.

Realistically, you won’t always get the results you want on the first try; even the most seasoned preppers make some mistakes along the way. You might find the central beam for your lean-to to be too short, or your dug-out trench may be too shallow. In any case, it’s best to encounter these mistakes in practice than in a real survival situation.

Practice building various survival shelters not just in favorable conditions but in any season. This way, you can find out what works and what doesn’t. You can eventually modify these shelters to suit your individual needs—ensuring higher chances of survival in any situation.

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