“Friction is necessary. Ease of life leads to complacency and the atrophy of the human will and spirit. Within our struggles lives our strength, within our trials lives our triumphs. Friction creates a platform for change, generates heat and or fervor and creates a motivational charge that gives us an opportunity to be better”- Jason Versey
Trials can be everywhere, and they can appear anytime, regardless if you are prepared for them or not. As Preppers, we are deeply aware of that, and we learned that awareness is the first step in dealing with hardships in life.
Without having a keen sense of awareness, we can’t consider ourselves survivalists or preppers, or even average folks with common sense.
This is especially true for outdoor enthusiasts: hikers, climbers, hunters, trackers, you name it.
No matter which kind of activity we involved ourselves in when exploring the great outdoors, mishaps can be just around the corner.
The purpose of this article is not to convince you about the possibility of spending a night out in the outdoors due to unforeseen reasons. The goal is to provide all the basic knowledge to manage such a situation in the best way possible by taking advantage of what you have.
If it is going to happen
Building an emergency shelter in the wilderness is certainly an extreme solution to an extreme condition. You never know how you may lose your gear or get stranded in an unfamiliar environment. Maybe you went out exploring, and you went a little too far. It can be just as easy as that.
People get lost in the wilderness due to several reasons. Here are just a few:
- finding yourself without signal
- finding yourself without an accurate map of the area
- finding yourself with no reference points – especially with dense fog is present, or you find yourself in an unfamiliar place
- running out of batteries for your cell phone, GPS,
- being stranded after a fall or after trying to find a water source to prevent a severe case of dehydration.
Undoubtedly the status mentioned above may seem out of the ordinary, but they are more than a remote possibility when you spend regular time in the great outdoors. The daily newspapers have plenty of such stories to tell.
Having the proper gear is surely the first step, but being prepared for the unexpected is essential too!
Mastering survival and bushcraft skills, in fact, can literally save your life if you know how, why, and where you should be putting them to use.
If you attended any survival courses, refreshing or testing your abilities should be part of your regular routine in the backwoods. It is all about “doing your homework,” as I learned from Dave Canterbury from Pathfinder School.
Starting a fire, beginning from gathering the right tinder, setting a tarp, making water safe to drink, and so on, aren’t a hobby. They are, instead, the very core of any survival activity you may need to rely on one day.
Practicing them regularly provides you more self-confidence and, in the same way, it sharpens your craftsmanship, elevating your skills to the next level: true actions for a real situation.
No more simulations: real mishaps will be tougher than you may expect, especially if you are experiencing physical and mental fatigue, thirst, hunger, lack of sleep, and so on.
In the unfortunate scenario of finding yourself stranded, you need to know what to do and how to do it. Common sense should always pave the way to solve unexpected situations.
Nonetheless, everything starts with a correct risk analysis, related to:
- the type of activity you are going to commence
- the area where you will do such activity
- proper awareness of your performances, starting from an honest analysis of your body and mind, strength, and overall physical conditions
- weather conditions and temperatures range
- an assessment of food and water supplies you need to carry with you
Remember that a lot of unforeseen factors can be avoided with correct planning. Without a proper assessment of your skills and supplies, any minor inconvenience could rapidly turn into a traumatic event.
Therefore, accuracy and foresight should be your best companions during the organizing and setting up phase of your backpack.
What to carry in your backpack to make a natural shelter
The gear we carry in our backpacks always makes a substantial difference in our ability to complete a task.
Don’t overestimate certain items just because you never had the chance to use them and you believe they may be valuable. As a general rule, every piece of your equipment should be in the backpack because it has one (or even more!) purpose.
In the end, you need very common tools to set an improvised shelter; in the unfortunate hypothesis, your tarp is gone due to several reasons.
Simple objects, such paracord, a Swiss army knife, can be indispensable support in an emergency situation.
Anyway, as we will soon see, we can replace even those items with some creativity and craftmanship.
“Use what you have” should be our motto, and you can see that in the pictures of this article.
Good gear, well maintained and tested, does surely represent a bonus. But skills, knowledge, and perseverance are what assures the success of our actions in the end.
Why make a natural shelter?
To put it simply, when you are sleeping outside, you need to deal with several risks:
- the risk of getting hypothermia
- the presence of night predators
- the presence of insects
- the risk of being injured with dead widows trees
…just to name a few.
A natural shelter does not only offer a comfortable way to spend the night out, but it also protects us from the elements, from animals while giving us the morale boost of not being completely helpless.
In a few words, it gives us protection, hope, and warmth. In a survival situation, this means a lot to boost your morale and help you push forward.
Where should you make a natural shelter?
As already stressed out, common sense and knowledge of your environment should lead to your actions.
Stay away from flash flood areas, natural depressions, and humid spots.
Use your tracking skills to look for a location free of animal tracks: caves, for example, can be the den of predators.
Go for a place looking south, preferably with a natural coverage offered by big boulders or fallen trees.
As you can see from the photos, I opted to take advantage of erratic boulders, or I just simply went for an open area with no risks of falling trees.
Look also for natural resources: being close to a stream, in fact, can provide you a supply of water to filter and use for various tasks, and a wooden area offers you not only material for your fire but also branches you can use to set up your natural shelter.
Also, be careful in collecting and carrying resources from a medium/long distance. If you plan to do so, you may end up exhausted, and you may lack the energy to set up your shelter. Often, you can get all the materials you need in your immediate vicinity.
How to make a natural shelter
Once you have selected the best spot after scouting for it, you better start by thinking about how to set up your shelter, considering your weight, height, and the gear you have. Planning a shelter is a must before actually starting to build one.
Be careful not to make it too big or too tiny. It should accommodate you and your backpack without it being too sparse.
Start to work on it when you have plenty of daylight and don’t rush yourself in building a shelter you don’t actually need immediately when in fact, you require a long-term shelter.
In certain cases, you may need something that really works for you and your situation, considering weather conditions, remaining daylight hours, temperature, and, last but not least, your fatigue level.
Building a shelter, in fact, will cost you a lot in terms of energy and, therefore, calories.
Use what you have
“Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.”
As illustrated in the photographs, a solid emergency shelter must look towards the South and take advantage of the elements already existing in the area to make your work as less demanding as possible.
A large erratic boulder, for example, extremely common throughout quite all mountaineer areas, can serve as an ideal wall. I opted out to create an improvised lean-to shelter taking advantage of this large, rocky wall.
Fallen pine trees provided me the proper coverage for the opposite side of the shelter, as they are pretty straightforward to be aligned and pursue your goal of retaining warmth by keeping them close to each other.
Setting a natural shelter step by step
“Improvisation means coming to the situation without rigid expectations or preconceptions. The key to improvisation is motion — you keep going forward, fearful or not, living from moment to moment. That’s how life is.” – Bobby McFerrin
Once I cleared the surrounding soil of debris, I actually started, using my knife – but you can just use your hands too, by always wearing gloves and splitting them into the ideal seize using your knees – to create a sort of rack of straight branches, put side by side to leave no empty spaces.
In this manner, you will have the wall done in no time.
I also covered one end with other branches to set up a barrier and thus avoid the dispersion of heat.
At the opposite end, calculating the space needed to access my shelter, I set up a deflector (held together by several turns of paracord) that would allow me to benefit the most from the heat, and the other benefits from making – and maintaining the fire.
Furthermore, you can also set an improvised mattress made of fallen leaves and soft debris. Having a large thrash bag will help you easily collect them and give it the size you prefer.
Ultimately, I cover the shelter with moss and few ferns (to avoid spoors intoxication). On other occasions, as you can notice, I went for dead leaves (chestnuts and beeches).
“The most useful virtues, for one who walked on, were flexibility and a willingness to improvise.” – Rachel Hartman
Improvise, adapt and overcome is exactly what a tough situation always requires you to do. A natural shelter isn’t supposed to be the best long-term solution, but it’s what you need to have a good night’s rest.
Never let yourself be discouraged by the absence of a tent or a tarp. Your skills, your attitude, and your tenacity could let you achieve even the biggest successes when it comes not only to spend the night out but also to save your life.
This article has been written by Kyt Lyn Walken for Prepper’s Will.