Survival Priority: Shelter

Posted on: March 8, 2016

Whether we’re talking about being lost in the woods, stranded in a car during a blizzard, or preparing for a full-blown pandemic, we must satisfy the same basic requirements if we’re to survive. We need to maintain our core body temperature. We need to stay hydrated. We need to consume calories. Everything else truly is secondary.

Remember the Rule of Threes. We can survive:

  • Three hours without shelter.
  • Three days without water.
  • Three weeks without food.

If you find yourself in a survival situation, let those steps be your guide. Typically, there is a fourth rule, three minutes without air. However, I don’t usually include that in these sorts of discussions because, well, if breathable air becomes an issue, everything else that follows isn’t going to matter a whole lot.

Your first priority in a survival crisis is shelter. In inclement conditions, the elements will kill you quicker than just about anything else. Hypothermia can set in even during relatively mild temperatures. See, evaporation is a cooling process. The wetter you get from the rain or snow, the colder you will get as the moisture evaporates from your clothes.

Shelter refers to anything that will keep you warm and dry. It could be a debris hut or lean to. It could be a tent or tarp. It could also be a vehicle on the side of the road. Even just an emergency blanket wrapped around you is better than nothing. In fact, such a blanket should be one of the core components of any survival kit you assemble and carry with you. Go for one of the higher quality ones, though, such as the one I linked to there. The cheap ones tend to be very thin and will tear and fall apart rather easily.

I often include fire making in the shelter category, though it may not be absolutely necessary depending upon the situation. Fire keeps us warm, dries us out, and helps us to feel better about the situation. Always have with you multiple ways to light a fire, such as a butane lighter, a container of strike anywhere matches, and a ferro rod. Don’t forget ready to light tinder, too, just in case you have difficulty finding dry material when you need it most. Above all else, though, is to take the time now to learn how to light and maintain a small fire. Practice makes perfect and fire making is roughly equal parts art and skill. Just make sure you use common sense, both during practice as well as when it is for real.

When we’re preparing for long-term scenarios, such as a pandemic or EMP, our initial plan would be to shelter in place at our homes or perhaps at an off-site retreat we’ve set up and stocked for that purpose. Regular readers here know that I recommend sheltering in place until or unless your home is unsafe, whether due to structural issues or outside risk factors such as looters and such. Whether home or retreat, be sure to have essentials on hand for keeping warm, such as seasoned firewood, blankets, and extra sets of hats, coats, and gloves.

The overall important element here is to maintain that core body temperature. Do whatever you can to keep out of the rain, snow, and wind. While there is something to be said for powering through a stretch of bad weather to get to your destination, you may be risking hypothermia or worse. In many cases, you’ll be far better off hunkering down and waiting it out, especially if people know roughly where you are and will come looking for you if you don’t arrive in a reasonable amount of time.

Incidentally, an unknown cave isn’t often a great choice for an emergency shelter. Animals often den in caves and meeting one nose to nose could turn a bad situation far worse. There is also the risk of cave ins. My recommendation is that if you come across a cave and it appears to be your only option for emergency shelter, do your best to inspect it for inhabitants before entering. Even then, stay close to the cave mouth, just in case.


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