The purpose of an emergency shelter is to reduce the amount of energy you need to conserve your body heat. In the wild, everything is energy conservation. It’s a cost-risk analysis on whether one activity will yield something you need to survive and whether another will be more advantageous further on down the road.
Ideally, you should start creating your shelter while there is still light outside. It’s much harder to reliably assemble a shelter taken from your surroundings if you cannot see. This means biting the bullet and starting sooner.
If you’re creating an emergency shelter in a real situation, you’re probably torn between committing to spending the night (or more) in the wild or spending more time to go search for rescue.
If you wait too long, you could be left without any shelter. Make the call early. In the event you create an emergency shelter and rescue ends up being around the corner — you have shelter ready. If they don’t show up, you’re just that much more prepared.
Deciding To Create An Emergency Shelter
Any shelter has supports. A house, for example, has beams and then it was stick. A basic survival shelter in a wooded area can do the same. In this video below, a man explains how using a fallen or bent tree trunk can act as a base layer beam. From there, he builds outward, using sticks to extend the frame further.
In the area where this video was shot, he makes use of straw as an insulating layer.
Other materials can be used such as:
Straw makes for a great insulating layer but it requires a lot of layers. Thatch roofs have to be a certain depth or else water will penetrate. Another important aspect is pitch and angle. The straw has to be piled up at an angle where the water can move through it.
The most basic woodland survival shelter configuration is the A frame.
The A frame uses a bigger pole as the main support beam. This pole is pitched with one end going into the ground and the other pointing up at less than a 45 degree angle. Saplings and branches are then used to prop up the beam.
Keep adding sticks procured from saplings and branches until the beam is fully supported.
Then comes the insulation.
As previously seen, insulation is necessary to keep out the elements and help you conserve body temperature. The advantage of an A frame design is it allows you to keep one end open where you can feed a small fire for warmth. It also pitches water off to either side versus letting the water sink in and come through.
There will always be at least some point of leakage in the roof — especially if this is your first time making an emergency shelter. Nothing beats practice and experience. It can take hours to establish even a primitive emergency shelter that is effective in keeping you warm and secure.
Using straw, mud, bark, and leaves — or whatever is available to you — apply them vigorously in layers.
For immediate survival, you’re looking to build an enclosure that protects against the wind. Ideally, you want it to protect against the rain as well. Using multiple layers of leaves, grass, compressed pine needles can provide much needed support against the elements. Throwing them on without the support of a good frame, though, is futile.