The Ultimate Guide To Building, Finding, and Deploying Survival Shelters
There’s more than one way to skin a cat.
And they’re even more ways to find, build and deploy survival shelters.
But only if you know what you’re doing.
In this guide, we show you our 10 favorite simple-to-build survival shelters.
And we don’t just show you; we teach you with how-to videos.
So in this article, we’ll cover the following survival shelter topics:
- Why Learn How To Build A Survival Shelter
- 3 LifeSaving Shelter Tools
- 10 Best Survival Shelters
- Simple Tarp Shelter
- Variations Of The Tarp Shelter
- Debris Shelter
- Spider Shelter
- Ultimate Wickiup
- Survival Hut
- Snow Cave
- Juniper Tree Shelter
- Dug Out Shelter
- Survival Shelter Action Plan
** Note: Feel free to skip ahead to different sections of this article using the navigation links above.
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Why You Should Learn How To Build A Survival Shelter
I love the great outdoors, but I hate feeling exposed.
Wait, don’t those two statements contradict each other?
Yes, they do if you don’t know how to build a survival shelter.
But if you can build one…then the answer is: No.
Let me explain.
Riding out Mother Nature’s worst without shelter is not only a crappy time; it’s also deadly.
When unprepared humans go up against extreme weather, weather wins. You lose.
And even if the weather decides to “play nice,” it’s comforting to know how to build a safety barrier between you and the rest of the world.
Cold, wet, heat, and dangerous animals all reduce your chances of survival.
And at the extremes (blizzards, torrential downpours, heat waves, and attacks), you’re survival window slams shut.
So if you can’t build, find or deploy a survival shelter fast in the harshest conditions, you’re done for in mere minutes.
That’s why sheltering is essential to your survival.
Whether you’re planning a bug-out or want to be ready for an unexpected emergency.
Everyone should learn the skill of building, finding, and deploying survival shelters.
Now before we continue:
Not all survival shelter designs work in all environments.
A good forest survival shelter will not work in deep snow or the hot desert.
So I’ll also break this article into the following categories as well:
- Forest Survival Shelters
- Snow Survival Shelters
- Jungle Survival Shelters
- Desert Survival Shelters
So let’s start things off with the simple lifesaving emergency shelter tools.
Because you should never make survival harder than it needs to be.
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3 Lifesaving Survival Shelter Tools
Emergencies are, by definition, unplanned events:
“A serious situation or occurrence that happens unexpectedly and demands immediate action.”
The most important word here is UNEXPECTEDLY.
You were caught off guard. You didn’t expect the event, but never-the-less, stuff happens.
We cannot prevent all emergency situations from our lives; however, we can prepare for the unexpected.
Or as they say “expect the unexpected.”
So how do you do this in regard to survival shelters?
1. A Quality Survival Tarp
By purchasing several good survival tarps and stashing them in your vehicle, your bug out bag, your day pack, etc.
I’m often asked which survival tarp I consider the best.
I like the Aqua Quest Defender Tarp.
It’s 100% waterproof, extremely durable, lightweight, and compact, and it includes over 20 reinforced loops for a versatile setup in any situation.
Remember, when it comes to survival tarps, you get what you pay for.
And as we’ll cover in more detail shortly, you’ll also benefit from having a bit of paracord with you at all times.
Paracord has many survival uses, but with shelter building, it’s essential for securing tarps and lashing wood together.
And while some paracord is better than others, most will work for building survival shelters.
I recommend getting some Titan Warrior Cord. It’s proven, tough, and ideal for survival.
3. Tact Bivvy
The third item I recommend you invest in for survival is the Tact Bivvy
It’s the ultimate solution to keeping you warm under your survival tarp.
Sleeping bags are too bulky to stash in small spaces and take with you for random emergencies.
However, the Tact Bivvy fits in your hand and is designed with NASA Mylar heat reflective technology.
It’s worth investing in one for each of your vehicles.
Click here to find out why a bivy sack is one of the best survival tools ever made.
So with just these three simple items (a survival tarp, some quality paracord, and a Tact Bivvy), and a bit of shelter knowledge, you can protect yourself from even the most severe weather emergencies.
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10 Best Survival Shelters For Last Resort Protection
Forest Survival Shelters
We’ll start off with wilderness survival shelters in a forest setting with little to no snow. This is the sort of environment many people find themselves stranded in every year.
Whether getting lost on a hike or injured on a hunting expedition, the following forest survival shelters will keep you protected and alive.
1. The Simple Tarp Shelter
Here’s a video sharing an easy way to build a tarp shelter if you have a high-quality survival tarp with you.
Now, you can make more elaborate survival shelters (which we’ll get to shortly), but they require more time and calorie commitment.
They’re not something you will build for a single night in a rare emergency. But a night or two is exactly where the tarp survival shelter excels.
Here are a couple of key takeaways before we continue.
If you have some extra time and are not minutes from hypothermia or dehydration, you should look for a good base location.
You want the natural surroundings to help reinforce your shelter.
There are good shelter locations and bad locations. Take a few minutes to find a good location.
Also, you need to figure out the prevailing wind direction.
For most of us in the United States, that will be from West to East. So you’ll want to have the back of the tarp facing to the west.
That way, driving rains and howling winds will be deflected by the tarp.
If you build your shelter’s entrance facing the prevailing winds, the winds will enter and push rain with it into your shelter. Not fun.
Pro tip: Understanding prevailing winds is key for all survival shelter setups and not just for tarp shelters.
Ok, so what about some other tarp survival shelter variations?
2. Several Variations Of The Tarp Shelter
Here’s a video that focuses primarily on stealth camping and shows several simple tarp setups you can use in an emergency.
So as you just saw, each of these designs is simple to set up and keeps you warm and dry.
They will help keep the rain and wind off of you, and that’s about it.
Nothing luxurious about them but emergencies rarely are.
You can combine any of these setups with fire if hypothermia concerns you.
Before we move on, a quick note about tarps:
- Not all tarps are created equal. Cheap tarps rip.
- Cheap tarps don’t have any grommets.
- You need lots of grommets to make all the tarp shelter variations.
- And the cheap grommets tarps do have will rip the tarp under very little tension.
- Cheap tarps will quickly deteriorate under UV light exposure.
- Cheap tarps are not good for survival. Don’t buy cheap tarps.
So, again, get a tarp-like The Aqua Quest Defender.
It’s completely waterproof, highly durable, and includes 20 reinforced loops.
It’s a survival tarp perfect for creating any of the tarp configurations shown in this guide.
Now, if you don’t have a tarp, building a one-night survival shelter becomes a more labor-intensive task!
However, it’s worth learning these skills for a worst-case scenario.
Forests offer an abundance of resources you need to build a strong survival shelter.
Trees provide ample amounts of logs and sticks. They also provide ample pine straw and leaves.
These are your basic building blocks to many survival shelters.
Note: These survival shelters won’t work well if these resources are not readily available. You’ll need to check out some of the other survival shelter options later in this article.
3. The Debris Survival Shelter
The simple debris shelter is your next best bet if you are without a tarp.
Here’s a quick video showing how to build a debris hut shelter.
Now before we move on to more sophisticated survival shelters, I want to talk about the often overlooked but absolutely simplest survival shelters; Natural Shelters.
Take advantage of what nature can provide. I’m talking about outcrops, caves, large burrows, or natural depressions.
If you can find a natural area that’s protected from wind and rain, then, by all means, use it. Take what nature gives.
Don’t spend hours or days building a complex shelter when there’s an empty cave nearby.
You’ll want to have a few essential survival tools to make the most of a forest’s resources and build a stable structure.
At a minimum, you need a high-quality survival knife.
And for the more heavy-duty survival shelter builds, you’ll need a Survival Hatchet, a Pocket Chain Saw, Survival Machete, and a Portable Tactical Shovel.
Assuming you have these items, you’ll be able to construct the following survival shelters with some knowledge and practice.
4. The Spider Shelter
This first series of videos goes over a spider debris shelter.
It’s a modified debris hut with an extra dome at the front to provide enough space to sit up in it.
Let’s follow up with a couple of videos on how to upgrade this type of shelter.
This kind of survival shelter is ideal for solo survival in both the medium and long term.
Now, if you stay for the long haul, you might make your house a home with a few upgrades.
Add a few small upgrades to your shelter every day, and you’ll have a longer-termer term shelter in a few weeks.
Upgrades such as a sleeping mat, a fire hole, and more layers of debris for more insulation.
The spyder debris shelter is a relatively simple design, and it’s proven.
5. The Ultimate Wickiup
An Ultimate Wickiup shelter is more elaborate and will take extra time and energy to build.
However, you can scale this survival shelter design to include larger survival groups for long-term stays.
Now, if you’re planning an extended stay in a Wickiup, it makes sense to invest some effort in making life a bit more comfortable.
You’ll also have time to upgrade your shelter over the weeks or months you live there.
So here’s a 4 part video series with ideas on upgrading your wickiup from surviving to thriving.
Jungle Survival Shelters
For emergencies in a jungle, your best bet is a tarp shelter.
If you don’t have one, then you can build a debris survival shelter similar to the ones we previously covered.
The tree species and debris will differ in a jungle, but the concept is the same.
So let’s move on to my favorite long-term jungle survival shelter: The Survival Hut.
6. The Survival Hut
Jungles provide unique materials you can use to build with. They have thick vines, hollow shoots, and large leaves, and the ground is often made of clay.
Plus, you’ll likely have abundant water available to work with.
A survival hut starts by using the wattle technique to interlace shoots and sticks.
Wattling creates a simple fencing structure. Then you use the duab technique to smear a clay-like substance onto the wattle and allow it to dry.
These two methods create a substantial survival hut.
Now, feel free to use tools to make your hut. But to show you what’s possible, in the next video, the entire hut is built with no brought tools.
He makes tools with just the resources around him.
Worth watching the entire video!
Snow Survival Shelters
So far, we haven’t discussed shelters for winter and snow. They don’t work in deep snow.
Forest shelters can still work if they’re trace amounts of snow, but if you’re dealing with multiple feet of snow, you won’t find the wood or debris necessary to build them.
So instead, you’ll need to take advantage of the snow.
7. A Snow Cave
Snow caves work well as emergency survival shelters. You dig a snowhole and get in. It’s fast, quick, down n’ dirty.
The reason this works is that snow has insulating properties. So while snow is cold, it also does a fantastic job trapping heat.
So if you dig a hole in the snow and then bundle up inside, the air temperature inside the snow cave will rise over time due to your trapped body heat.
When built correctly, the air temperature inside the snow cave will rise several degrees higher than the outside air temperature.
Plus, it will protect you from the wind, which is the biggest concern in a severe blizzard.
However, be careful when building a snow cave. There are some dangers you need to be aware of.
First, you need to remain dry at all times. Avoid extreme sweating while building because wet and cold can lead to a hypothermic situation.
Second, over the years, cooking in a snow cave has been attributed to several mountain climber deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Here’s an article that covers more snow cave dangers.
This video shows you the basics of building a snow cave.
Now in an emergency situation where time is of the essence, you wouldn’t make it as large. Just big enough to get in it fast.
While snow caves are relatively straightforward to build, they’re not suitable for longer-term situations.
Snow caves will eventually collapse in on themselves.
A full-out collapse typically takes several days of warm weather or rain, but they are not meant for months of sheltering.
And that’s where the iconic igloo comes in.
7. An Igloo
By design, igloos are made to last. Obviously, snow melts in warm weather, but the integrity of an igloo (if properly built) is impressive.
Check out this short video to show you how strong and durable igloos are.
So how do you correctly build an igloo by yourself?
Here’s a step-by-step video showing you how to build your own survival igloo.
Note: Cold weather survival skills include more than just building snow caves and igloos. Make sure you understand all aspects of cold weather survival.
Next up, the opposite of cold and snow; heat and desert.
Desert Survival Shelters
Desert survival takes a unique set of skills. Many people make the mistake of thinking a shelter isn’t necessary for a desert.
They think “it doesn’t get cold in a desert,”; which is false.
Deserts at night can get brutally cold. For example, America’s most infamous desert, “Death Valley,” often drops into the ’30s over the winter months.
And many people also forget about the need for shade in the heat of the day.
One study found an average difference of 27.5 degrees in shade vs. direct sunlight.
27.5 degrees is a big deal in the brutally hot desert.
So while it’s blistering hot during the day, you need a shelter to help shade you from the sun. But as evening sets in, you’ll need shelter to keep you warm.
The bottom line is you need shelter in a desert survival scenario.
So it’s best to learn how to make one.
Now, if you’re stranded in the desert due to a broken-down vehicle, then you already have a decent shelter; the vehicle itself.
So in most cases, it makes the most sense to stay with your vehicle instead of abandoning it.
There are exceptions, but if you’re stranded, lost, and hoping for rescue, use your vehicle’s inside as your desert survival shelter.
If you’re stranded on foot, a good tarp will work wonders in a short-term desert survival situation, but if you don’t have a tarp with you, you will have to improvise.
You’ll have to use what the environment gives you. The desert often means miles and miles of juniper trees and sagebrush.
9. A Juniper Tree Shelter
Here’s a video showing how to use a Juniper Tree to improvise a survival shelter in the desert.
10. Dug Out Survival Shelter
And for a long-term survival stay, you could build a dugout survival shelter in a sandy area of the desert like this one:
Of course, this one takes quite a lot of work, so if you plan on building this sort of shelter in a desert, you’ll want a shovel and plenty of water available. Otherwise, you’ll quickly suffer from dehydration.
You also need to think carefully about the location of a dugout shelter.
Flash floods in the desert are extremely dangerous.
The last thing you want to do is build a dugout shelter in a washout basin.
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Survival Shelter Action Plan
It’s time to get outside!
No matter what environment you live in or what season it is right now, you can build yourself one of these survival shelters.
Practice making them today in a safe location when you’re not under extreme stress.
Make them close to home, where the consequences of a screw-up are not life-threatening.
Practice makes perfect, and mistakes help you learn.
Make sure you’re making safe mistakes before putting your skills to the ultimate test.
Also, as discussed at the beginning of this article, get some tarps and paracord to help make your survival shelter builds easier. Also, invest in lifesaving Tact Bivvy.
Then add these survival shelter tools to your car emergency kits, day packs, get home bags and bug out bags.
I always keep all these tools with me, just in case, and you should too.
Remember: Prepare, Adapt, and Overcome
“Just In Case” Jack
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