If you ever built something in your life, you know that planning is the most important part of any construction project. Building a shelter in the wild is no different than any other homestead project and you shouldn’t rush headlong into the building phase. Before you chose a site for your shelter and start cutting down trees you should make sure you have the following covered.
I’ve seen many articles and videos about how to make a shelter in the wild and they all fail to tackle an important aspect, the planning phase. To avoid wasting your time and energy, and possibly build a dangerous short-term home, it is better to construct the shelter in your mind first. Covering the topics from this article will give you a good start and you will be able to check and re-check your plan as you work. Even though your plan may need to evolve due to various emerging factors and based on the available materials, at least you won’t be caught off-guard.
You should never start building a temporary or long-term shelter unless you have the answers for the questions listed below. Planning a shelter in the wild may require time and energy, but you can’t succeed without wits.
What are you sheltering from and for how long?
This is the first question you should be asking when you plan a shelter in the wild. Maybe you need a simple shelter to protect you from the scorching sun or from the wind. On the other hand, if you need to shelter from rain and snow, you will need something a little more elaborated that will require more time and energy to build it properly. If you have to deal with an emergency situation, your first aim should be to build something that can shelter you through the night. If the weather conditions are harsh, you may need to incorporate a warming fire and enough room to move around and cook inside. Even if you build something temporarily and you will need to use that shelter for longer than predicted, you can still built extension to it once you have the time.
A must read: How to Make a Tarp Shelter – 15 Designs
What materials are available for your shelter?
While some survivalists can build a natural shelter framework using only a tarp or a survival bag to speed up the construction process, there are those that would rather use these items to improve the protective and waterproof qualities of their shelter. Before you start chopping down trees you should think carefully about what other materials you can use. If a car is available you can use it as a sturdy support for a lean-to shelter combined with a tarp. You should reconsider about using your vehicle as a temporary shelter because in the winter it can get even colder inside and in the summer it would be like living in an oven. However, as I’ve written in a previous article there are useful survival items you can scavenge from your car and some of these items can help you improve your shelter. You can insulate your shelter from the ground by using the seats and carpets, you can use the seat-belts as survival cordage and so on. If the horn still works you can use it to signal for help, and the same goes for the mirrors.
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What tools are available for building your shelter in the wild?
If you have a pocket knife, you won’t be able to cut strong wooden poles for your main frame and you will have to use fallen dead wood (which is less than ideal). All the green wood you may have to harvest will be used for the main structure and this will definitely influence your shelter design and durability. You will have to adapt your shelter design based on your capabilities and available resources. Having a survival shovel in your car or bug out bag is recommended if you plan on building a shelter in the wild.
Will this be a solo or a group job?
If you are alone, you need to build something simple that doesn’t require the assistance of another person, but if there are many people in your group you can get everyone involved. You can divide the workload so that even those who are not helping with the building phase can be kept busy by collecting firewood, carrying water or preparing the food.
Is time on your side or do you need to rush it?
If you are stranded in the wild and you need to build a shelter you will always be working to a deadline and that is the setting sun. If you want to be able to get even a basic roof over your head you need to know the local sunset time. If there isn’t much time of remaining daylight it would be better if you concentrate your effort on collecting enough firewood to last you for the night and making the best of your sleeping bag, in case you have one.
How about the size of your shelter, how big does it need to be?
While this depends mostly on the emergency situation you have to face and the number of people it needs to accommodate, a two person shelter will be big enough to squeeze inside and use the body heat of the occupants to stay warm. If you have a larger group and you have to face colder conditions, you will need a larger design that can incorporate a fire to warm all the people. Most people will set ambitious goals and go for something big without thinking about the available building materials and the capabilities of their workforce. You may need to use your environment and find a suitable spot (rock formation, cave, etc.) that would make your job of building a shelter in the wild a lot easier. Make sure to draw rough markings on the floor to establish the limit of the shelter’s footprint and to be sure it is big enough for everybody in your group. One survival course taught us to lay down in our sleeping positions inside the footprint to make sure we don’t undersize the shelter and this is an advice I also recommend.
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Do you know anything about the local weather conditions and how can it affect your shelter?
You should do a little research about the region before you start exploring it and you should learn about the elements that you might have to protect yourself from. Knowing about which direction does the wind come from will help you plan your shelter so that it faces away that direction. The wind blowing direction plays also an important role when using a fire and you should know what type of fire you need to make based on how the wind is hitting your position.
The sun’s position isn’t essential, but it can help keeping you warm during the cold season if you know when the sun rises and sets. There are large snow patches that never see the sun and you can spot these places easily in the summer long after the snow has melted. That’s the last place where you want to set your shelter.
What dangers do we need to be aware of?
Before you start building your shelter in the wild you should take a good look at your environment and identify the potential risks. Raising water, floods, dangerous animals, falling trees or rocks, poisonous reptiles, avalanche, these are all hazards that can occur in your environment. Check out for tracks of animals as you don’t want to set your shelter in the middle of a large predators’ road. Look up for potential rockfall, avalanche risk or branches that can fall on you if disturbed by high winds. Falling wood is one of the most common risks in any forest and it is no wonders that the pioneers named it widow makers.
How can you work smart not hard when building a shelter in the wild?
If you are not in good health conditions and your energy levels are in short supply, you must first use any existing natural shelters in your favor. You should also build your shelter next to your resources (building materials, firewood and source of drinking water) because you will waste less time carrying them to your shelter. This will help you save your energy and you will have much more time for preparing food, providing first aid or any other action that will help you regain your strength. Look for cave and rock overhangs as they have provided shelter for our ancestors for many thousands of years. If you set your eye on a costal cave, you must first check it for indications of flooding and as a general rule, any cave should be checked for any inhabitants that might harm you. If you notice a pile of bones or any other animal leftovers, it’s better if you stay away from it and find something else to shelter you for the night. You should always stay alert to the possibilities of exploiting a natural shelter and maybe, explore a little before picking the ideal spot for your site. You should keep an open mind to the available possibilities and you should adapt based on the needs you have and available time.
Some people will say that building a shelter in the wild is hard work, but that is usually true for the inexperienced people. The planning phase is the most important one and it will save you a lot of time and energy, and most importantly, you will avoid any do-overs.
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