If you find yourself lost in the woods or for any other reason you are left to your own devices overnight in the field, the ability to cobble together a shelter may indeed save your life. Weather conditions may make it almost impossible to get a decent fire going to keep you warm. Or, there may be other reasons why you may not with to advertise your presence with a campfire. Being able to get out of the elements is not only going to be a great boon to your state of mind but it will help prevent hypothermia and other ill effects.
One of the simplest shelters is called a debris hut. Given plentiful materials at hand, you can build one in less than an hour. You will need a long branch or log. It should be at least a few feet longer than you are tall. It should be fairly thick and sturdy as this will be the “spine” of your shelter. Prop one end of the branch or log on a large rock or against a branch of a standing tree. Ideally, the log will be about 3-3.5 feet off the ground. This end is going to be the opening of your shelter. If possible, arrange the shelter so this opening faces away from the prevailing winds.
Next, lean branches against the spine of your structure. Go along both sides, from the mouth of the shelter all the way to the other end. Consider these to be the “ribs” of your shelter. Keep the ribs as close together as you can. Next, pile on leaves, moss, grass, even dirt, onto the ribs. This is the insulation, so lay it on thick. The more insulation there is, the warmer your shelter will be.
Finally, lay more sticks down on top of the insulation to keep it in place. If you don’t have something to use for a ground cover, like an emergency blanket, pile grass and moss on the floor of your shelter.
Slide into the shelter feet first and wiggle your way in. Go as far into the shelter as you can. While this isn’t exactly five star accommodations, it will keep you warm and relatively dry until morning.
A variation on this is the simple lean to. This was my favorite type of fort to build when I was a kid tramping through the woods near my home. My friends and I built many of them, using them as “Army bases” when we were playing commando and such. Take a thick branch about six or seven feet long and suspend it about four feet from the ground between two trees. Take long branches and lean them against this suspended branch. We found that the ideal for these branches was about eight or nine feet in length. Take shorter branches and lead them against the sides, to create more of a hut shape. Then again pile on the insulating material. The lean to can be quite comfortable, especially if you build a campfire near the opening and construct a reflecting wall of logs on the opposite side of the fire.
In the winter months, you can put together a snow cave. Simply make a large pile of snow, four or five feet high and six feet across. From the side of the pile that faces away from the wind, start digging a tunnel into the pile. You only need a space big enough for you to curl up inside. Pile loose snow in front of the opening once you’re inside. Again, while not the most comfortable arrangement but certainly better than the alternative.
When we were kids, we built forts like these using nothing but our hands. Sure, we might have had the use of a snow shovel for the snow cave mentioned above but that’d be about it. However, having access to a sharp knife or hatchet as well as cordage like paracord would have made things much easier. Having a couple emergency blankets would also help a great deal.
The point of building expedient shelters is to get you out of the elements for a night or two, not live in long-term. One would hope that a survival situation necessitating the use of these shelters would only be temporary.
Your assignments this week:
1) Get outside and practice building expedient shelters. Get creative with the materials available to you. The smaller the interior size of the shelter, the less space you’ll need to warm with your body heat. Make them just big enough to crawl into, that’s all.
2) Add to your water storage this week, at least two gallons for each family member.
3) How’s the garden planning coming along? Consider starting your seedlings if you haven’t done so already.