On the list of survival priorities, maintaining your core body temperature is number one. Hypothermia is a very real danger, even in relatively mild conditions. On top of that, working to make yourself at least somewhat comfortable has a tremendous impact on morale. You’ll feel better about your situation if you’re warm and dry, even if you’re still lost and hungry.
The Complete Survival Shelters Handbook is an excellent resource and instruction guide for all manner of methods for getting out of the rain and snow. The book starts, rightfully so, with a discussion on clothing and sleeping gear. Your clothes are always your first line of defense, your first shelter, in any situation. Ensuring you are properly dressed for conditions is important. There is ample information here on different fabrics to consider for the base, the mid, and the outer layers of clothing.
In this first part of the book, there is also some pretty good instruction on making your own cordage. Why? Because cordage is extremely useful in a wide range of DIY shelters and if you don’t have paracord or bankline in your pocket or pack, you might need to improvise a bit.
From there, the book divides shelters into three basic categories:
–Shelters made from natural materials
–Shelters made with modern materials
–Shelters purchased from stores
In the natural materials section, the author covers nine different shelters, everything from a debris hut to snow caves. Each shelter is discussed in terms of its pros and cons and includes detailed instructions for construction, accompanied by several photos. I found it interesting that the author is not a fan of the lean to shelter, as this is one of the natural material shelters detailed in just about every single survival manual I’ve read. I don’t disagree with the points he makes, either. Lean to shelters are woefully ineffective when it comes to warmth. They are fun to build when you’re just out screwing around in the woods, as many a kid can attest. But, when it comes to true survival, there are far better options such as the classic debris hut.
The next section of the book tackles DIY shelters using modern materials. The materials used include the ever-popular reflective emergency blankets as well as tarps and the Scandinavian Lavvu. No, I’d never heard of that one, either. It is sort of like a short, squat Native American teepee made of canvas. A full ten pages of the book detail step-by-step instructions for making this particular shelter. It isn’t something you’ll slap together on the fly but it looks very durable and long-lasting.
Tarp shelters are mentioned but all too briefly, in my opinion. There are a ton of different tarp shelter layouts, each with different attributes and I wish the author would have gone into more detail on more of them. Still, the information provided is valuable and on point.
About 25 pages are devoted to the construction of a yurt. For those not in the know, a yurt is a traditional Mongolian shelter that has a circular shape and sort of a peaked or conical roof. Again, not something you’ll quickly build in an emergency but if you’re planning a long-term offgrid situation in the field, this might be the way to go.
The store-bought shelter section of the book covers tents, hammocks, and bivvy bags. For each, the author goes through the terminology involved as well as what to look for when shopping. I would have liked to see more information on choosing a hiking or backpacking tent as this portion of the chapter only runs a couple of pages. Hammocks get far more space than tents.
The last chapter of the book is a brief discussion of mental preparedness. Here, the author details four types of mental survival skills:
–Drilling or practicing
–Understanding emotions and stress
–Adopting the right mental attitude.
As he stresses, it isn’t enough to read through the book. You need to get out there and practice building these shelters. Make the mistakes now when you have the luxury of learning from them for next time.
Overall, I liked the book. I feel it has some great information that goes well beyond what I’ve seen in other survival manuals regarding shelter building. Some of the shelters discussed, like the yurt and the lavvu, I thought were interesting but not really “survival shelters” in the way I understand the term. While they’ll certainly keep you alive, constructing them from scratch isn’t something you’ll be able to do in a couple of hours. In other words, these aren’t all expedient survival shelters, though many of them do fall into that category.
The author, Anthonio Akkermans, is well-versed in the subject. He grew up in the Netherlands and developed an affinity for the outdoors at a very young age. He has traveled the world learning and teaching primitive survival skills. He’s also worked as a consultant for TV and radio.
You can find The Complete Survival Shelter Handbook here on Amazon. It is also available from most other major booksellers.