10 Things To Know About Building A Natural Shelter

Free Standing Lean To - Natural Shelter

Reality TV Survival Shows Makes Natural Shelters Look Easy To Build

1. Building a natural shelter requires a lot of work!  If you need to build one of these in a wilderness survival situation plan to spend several hours of time working on it, if you want a shelter that will be water proof.

2.  In some environments a natural shelter can be constructed without using any manmade materials, including cutting tools or cordage.  But that is generally the exception and not the rule.  In most of the continental United States you will likely want/need to have an axe, saw or machete in order to build a good reliable natural shelter.

3. You should start with a solid frame work for your natural shelter.  Ensure the frame work that you build is heavy duty enough to be able to hold your own body weight at a minimum.  This way if you get a surprise snow storm the shelter frame work can bear the additional weight of the snow.  I recommend having the main ridge pole or load bearing pole that is at least 4 inches in diameter made of a very solid and sturdy pole (green is best).

4. Ensure the pitch (angle)  of the sides and back are at least 45 degrees.  It can be tempting to build a natural shelter with a flat or slightly sloped roof.  This is a huge mistake.  Always make sure you have the proper pitch so that the water will run off adequately.

5. Thickness.  The thickness of the natural material you are using needs to be thick enough so that when you look up through the material from the inside you can’t see any light coming through.  If you see spots of light, you will certainly have rain coming through if the weather gets bad.

6. Start with the frame work and work to the smaller layers.  When building a fire you generally start small and work to the heavy sticks.  With a natural shelter it is exactly the   opposite.  Start with the heavy frame work pieces, then add smaller pieces a couple inches in diameter, then smaller branches, leaves, duff, pine needles, bark, etc.

7. Try to enclose 3 sides if possible.  Just having one side on a natural shelter can keep you dry, but by doing as much as you can to close it in on at least three sides, it will be more effective at blocking the wind and helping to retain some of the heat from your fire.

8. Site selection is very important.  Many times areas that are rich in resources to build your natural shelter may also be rich in natural hazards such as widow makers (dead standing trees) that can and frequently do blow over in high winds.  Also look for insect nests, ants, bees, etc and poisonous plants such as poison ivy and poison oak.  Be sure to check the area for other creepy crawlers like snakes, scorpions, etc.

9. Smaller is better.  In the video below I built a pretty large natural shelter in order to be able to clearly show the framework, pitch, thickness, etc.  But in reality, if you are building a shelter to save your life in the wild.  Build your natural shelter only as large as it needs to be for you and who ever is in your party.  Think cuddle time!

10. Natural shelters do work and can be an option if you have no other options.  However, it is always much much easier and better to bring a shelter with you and be prepared than to have to expend the energy and resources to build a natural shelter.  They are a ridiculous amount of effort for two healthy grown men and can be very overwhelming for one man especially in an emergency situation when injured, lost, and panicked.

Check out the video below to see just how much work building one of these can be.

Click here to watch on YouTube if you don’t have Flash: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uM3bf7lPNdY

What are some of the survival shelter options you carry with you in order to avoid having to build a natural shelter?



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About JJ

As a child I grew up in the Midwest on a small farm and fell in love with the outdoors. Later, that led me to join the USAF where I became a USAF Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) Instructor. As a SERE Instructor I have trained in all types of environments. Temperate, Arctic, Desert, and Rain Forest. After four years in SERE I retrained into the counterintelligence and counterterrorism field where I have worked for 11 years. I have traveled to the Far East, Asia, Southwest Asia, Europe, the Middle East and South America. The combination of both careers has thought me to see two sides of a coin. I consider myself a realist and while I enjoy primitive survival living, hiking, camping, and hunting for short periods. I also have the experience & understanding to know that living primitively is NOT fun or easy for long periods. Therefore, I try to be practical and logical in an effort to build a reliable, flexible philosophy of self reliance that can be utilized in any situation. Hopefully reading this blog will help you to do the same.

16 Responses to 10 Things To Know About Building A Natural Shelter

  1. Jeremiah says:

    I carry a hammock and a tarp. As long as there is two within 15′ of each other, I’m set. They don’t take much room up in your bag.

  2. LP says:

    A good, lightweight single person tent can sometimes squeeze in two people. A small tarp, or even a poncho liner can be layered over it, and anchored along the sides with logs or stones.

    An alternative is to build a small natural debris covering by tying a line over the tent spine, tree to tree, or stone to rear embankment, and laying natural cover over up against it from both sides. The line serves as a ridge, and the cover as insulation, camo and additional wind break. Works best in an area with terrain features suited to partial /complete shielding against wind.

    The site should be level or sloping away to keep run-off from coming inside. (That’s the wrong kind of indoor plumbing!) Raise the floor off the ground with a sleeping mat and /or natural boughs.
    LP recently posted..The Sub of all FearsMy Profile

  3. Dave Jones says:

    Great video!

  4. Thanks man! It was a lot of work for sure. Cheers jj

  5. BlindSquirl says:

    Item 3 includes an important point about making sure your structure is solid enough to carry snow loads. Trying to baton your way through a 4″ diameter log with your knife for a ridge pole can be a time consuming task though. I carry a Pocket Chainsaw in my B.O.B. and also have one in each vehicle.

    I’ve posted several videos on how to make the best use of them on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=FMMSywzsKro#t=17

  6. A pocket saw is a great piece of gear and can save some time for sure! Cheers JJ

  7. FLOYD says:


  8. Thanks for dropping by Floyd. Cheers JJ

  9. radarphos says:

    America’s fur trappers/traders and Indians, would face their doors to the east during summers (to avoid wind driven rain from the west, and SW/NW), and they would face their doors and openings to the south during winters (to avoid cold winds from the north (N/NW), and to acquire maximum sun exposure from the south. In hilly terrains the preferred campsites followed the same logic and used the hill itself as a wind-break. If rocks are available for stacking they can help close off the doorway opening, and will retain heat from sun and fires. During the 1600s forward, rocks/bricks were often heated in fireplaces and placed near the feet under covers to warm a bed. Lightening may be the most common and serious hazard. I have seen many groups of trees (even groups of tall thin trees) standing, missing their tops (“topped off” by lightening strikes) and usually within a diameter of about twenty-feet. Lightening isn’t always just one bolt, but a primary bolt with smaller finger-bolts that reach other trees near the main strike. It is a myth that lightening never strikes the same place twice. The presence of underground streams and large buried metals and/or ores can attract lightening through the large magnetic fields that these create in the ground. The electrical discharge from lightening dissipating into wet ground can result in receiving a “buzz” if any part of your body is bare and in contact with the ground.

  10. radarphos says:

    also, lightening bounces (deflects off solid objects). A man in CO once told me about sitting in his living room when lightening entered the home by traveling down a chimney and how it bounced off the cement flooring under the chimney hitting several interior walls before dissipating. It even facilitated a wet couch directly underneath where the man was sitting. :-). The point here is that lightening can strike a tree near a cliff, and then ricoche off the cliff itself to many areas around the tree and at ground level.

  11. That is some great info! Thanks a bunch for sharing. Cheers JJ

  12. I had a buddy get struck by lightening while working on a furnace, the building was struck and it got him as well. No fun at all!

  13. Woods1951 says:

    In ARC water safety training, we teach that you can get hypothermic in 70 degree weather. It can happen well above 40 degrees. In Scouting and SAR, we teach the Lost in the Woods curriculum and the rule of 3s. In that curriculum we teach our 7, 8, and 9 year old Cub Scouts to simply make a brush pile bed stuffed with lots of dead leaves and/or pine needles. We’ve had them stay in those beds over night, in the rain, in December, with no sleeping bag, but using only a large 4 mil garbage bag. They do wonderfully well. The same shelter techniques work well with our Boy and Venture Scouts and our AFROTC Cadets too. Shelters don’t have to be waterproof, just provide you enough insulation to keep you warm in the wet and wind. Shelters don’t have to be sophisticated or complicated, just simple enough that a Kindergartner or Cub Scout can build it. We use a kids’ book on animal homes to illustrate the concepts of building simple, warm shelters. Easy to teach, easy to understand and easy to build.

  14. Cool, thanks for sharing your thoughts! I appreciate it! Cheers JJ

  15. Pingback: Natural shelter refresher - Gun and Game - Firearms Forums

  16. Pingback: 10 Critical Points You Need To Know About Building Any Natural Shelter - Survival Life | Preppers | Survival Gear | Blog - Survival Life | Preppers | Survival Gear | Blog

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