Shelter is a primary survival objective. You need to be able to get out of the elements and stay warm and dry. Hypothermia is a very real danger in even somewhat mild temperatures. On top of that, there is a strong psychological component involved. If you’re able to get at least a little comfortable, you’ll be able to relax a bit. This will calm you down and allow you to plan your next move.
Even if all of your bug out plans entail reaching your chosen location in just a matter of hours, you should plan for at least one night spent in the rough. Remember, hope for the best but plan for the worst.
Your first line of defense is, of course, your clothing. Many of us have jobs that require a certain type of clothing, such as business, business casual, or perhaps some sort of uniform. Whatever the case, it probably isn’t something well suited for traveling on foot for extended periods of time, possibly over rough terrain. With that in mind, keep at least one full set of clothing in or with your bug out bag. The clothing should be comfortable as well as durable. While your bug out plans likely involve traveling in a car or truck, you may very well end up on foot for part or even all of your journey, so plan accordingly.
What I’ve done is actually set up a separate stuff sack containing clothing. This is stashed in my trunk alongside my bug out bag. The idea is that if I need to beat feet, I can grab both the BOB and the stuff sack. At the earliest opportunity, I’ll change into my bug out clothes, ditching my work clothes. The then-empty sack can be rolled up and stashed in the bug out bag.
The clothes pack contents will change with the seasons, of course. Here are a couple of examples.
Spring/Summer load out:
Jeans or cargo pants
Walking shoes or boots
Fall/Winter load out would add:
Additionally, you should have a couple of extra pair of socks and underwear stashed in your BOB. Trust me, you’ll appreciate having them. You should already be wearing or have in your vehicle seasonal appropriate outerwear, such as a heavy coat in winter.
The next layer of protection consists of a rain poncho of some sort and/or an emergency blanket. You might be able to get by with wearing a large garbage bag with a hole for your head while at the county fair but don’t plan on it working out well for you long-term. Far better to spring for a small but durable poncho that will easily fit into a side pocket of your pack. This will hopefully keep you from getting drenched in a downpour. This particular emergency blanket, sold by Survival Resources, has a built-in hood, which is a great feature.
All of the above will help keep you warm and dry as you travel but, like I mentioned before, you should plan for at least one night on the road. For that, you’ll probably want something a little better than a rain poncho.
One great option is to carry a small tarp and a hammock in your BOB. These items take up far less space than an actual tent and will serve quite nicely in all but truly low temperatures. All that is required is a couple of trees between which you can rig your hammock and tarp. You could even do away with the hammock, if you wanted to save space and weight in your BOB, and just sleep on the ground. I’d caution you, though, to put down a layer of pine boughs, grass, or similar material to insulate your body.
At the minimum, have a thin tarp and some cordage in your BOB. There are several different configurations you can use with just those two items.
There are four ways you can lose body heat and it is important to do what you can to combat each of them.
Your body is surrounded by a thin layer of air that is constantly being warmed by your body. It is sort of like insulation. However, wind or water can tear it away from you, causing you to suddenly feel cold. Clothing helps protect that layer of warm air, keeping us warm.
Ever sit on a boulder at night? It doesn’t take long for your butt to feel cold, right? That, my friend, is conduction at work. Heat energy tends to want to even itself out so if a warm object rests on a cold object, the energy seeps away from, say, your butt and moves to the rock. Insulating materials such as blankets, foam pads, even grass and leaves help to prevent this.
Most of our body heat is lost this way. Our bodies constantly radiate heat energy. Some bodies have higher heat output than others, of course. For some reason, puppies and kittens tend to be little hot pockets, right? You can help prevent radiated heat loss by bundling up in a jacket and hat.
When you step out of a lake or pool and a breeze blows by, you shiver. This is because evaporation is a cooling process. This is why our bodies sweat. When we’re working hard, we’re heating up. Sweat is generated to evaporate off the skin and cool us down a bit. You can avoid this having a negative effect on your body heat by removing layers when you’re working so you don’t sweat as much.
This is an excellent example of a quick and easy overnight set up. [Photo credit to Brandin Johnson.]
There are many different types of expedient shelters you could build as well, such as a debris hut or lean to. However, you are far better off to have supplies in your BOB that will allow a fast shelter set up and take down.
A step up from a tarp and hammock would be a sleeping bag and/or a bivvy sack, as well as a small tent. Keep in mind, though, that the more complicated the setup, the heavier it will be to carry around. The idea behind a BOB is to get you from Point A to Point B safely as well as (hopefully) quickly. That said, a heavier sleeping bag with a bivvy sack will keep you warmer in the dead of winter, as will an actual tent as opposed to a tarp.
On the other hand, a debris hut can be quite serviceable for a night on the road. It won’t be the Ritz but you’ll be alive to see the sun come up.
Depending on where you live and where you’ll be heading, you might consider investing in some sort of mosquito netting as well. It is very light and easy to stuff into a side pocket of your BOB. Where I live, the skeeters come large enough to qualify for single engine aircraft and carry off small children. Plus, they can carry some pretty nasty diseases.
In a survival situation, whether we’re talking a bug out or a lost in woods scenario, providing some means of protection against the elements is a primary objective. It takes precedence over just about everything. A decent shelter will help you to stay warm and dry, provide you with some degree of psychological benefit, and allow you to rest for a bit as you plan your next move.
Get caught up on all installments in this blog series here:
First aid / Hygiene
Signaling and Communication
Choosing the Pack or Container
Useful Odds and Ends