Making a Shelter

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Making a Shelter

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In a survival situation, making a shelter is critical to staying alive. A shelter keeps you out of the sun, wind, rain, snow, and ice. A shelter can prevent conditions that lead to hypothermia, heat stroke, and frostbite. But most importantly, a shelter can increase your positive outlook, comfort you, and give you a stronger resolve to survive!

Sometimes the best shelter can be found and not made. Look for rock outcrops, caves, and low hanging evergreen branches. All of these can serve as short or long-term shelters and can help provide some immediate relief from the elements.

The next consideration when making a shelter is the climate and environment. Look at the direction of the prevailing wind and try to keep your entrance on the leeward side. You also want to see if the drainage pattern and slope of the ground. Setting up a shelter in a tidal zone or a dry creek bed, could prove to be a costly decision during a storm!

The Lean-To

A lean-to is an expedient and effective shelter and can be made from a simple poncho and some rope or cord. A more long-term lean-to can be made with branches and vegetation cover which can help better shield the elements and increase the comfort. Use rocks to weigh down the poncho, and tie the rope between two trees. Depending on the size of your poncho, blanket or tarp, try to make a shelter space that has 2-3 feet of vertical space and enough horizontal space to lie down. A lean-to may prove a less-than-adequate shelter in a wind-driven rain.


The ground can be our ally in many cases, but it can also be a heat-stealing foe! The ground’s cool and consistent temperature can be comforting in the heat, but it can also steal precious body heat on a cool night. Look for soft vegetation, such as leaves, straw, moss, and pine needles. These can insulate your body from the cold ground and also provide some comfort against the hard rocks, roots, and soil that you may have to lay on.

Desert Shelter

If you’re making a shelter in a desert environment, your primary goal will be escaping the sun’s heat. Unfortunately, desert environments offer little in the way of vegetative cover to work with. Your best bet will likely be the ground itself. Dig out a space that you can rest in and use your poncho or other blanket as a cover. For additional protection, fold the poncho in half and create an air gap (i.e. a double-cover with a space in between). This air gap will help insulate the sun’s heat from the shelter space. Be careful not to dig a tunnel or other collapsible space in the ground. A low trench to lie in with some vertical space for a cover should be sufficient.

Multi-Sided Shelter

If your poncho is blanket is large enough, you can try to form a 1-man tent by draping the poncho over a taught rope or a branch. Secure the poncho to the ground with some heavy rocks to keep the weather out. If using a branch as a form the tent spine, secure the branch to a tree with rope. If you don’t have a poncho or other surface, evergreen branches, palm branches, or other large-leaf branches can be stacked together to form a fairly weather-tight barrier. Use what’s around you!

Making a shelter is a critical survival skill for your physical and mental well-being. It need not be aesthetically pleasing to be effective. If it keeps your dry, warm and comfortable then it’s a good shelter. Having a home will give you hope. Having hope will get you rescued!