HOW-TO: Construct a Debris Shelter

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It’s one thing to go out into the woods with a full woodsman axe, a saw, hundreds of feet of bank line or 550 cord, and plenty of warm clothing to set out and build yourself a survival shelter. It’s a whole other story to be cold with a storm coming in as it’s getting dark with no tools and a desperate need to stay dry. That’s what a survival situation is, and with that in mind today we’re going to cover how to build a simple survival shelter with no tools called a debris shelter.

The first thing to note is that a debris shelter isn’t meant to be a permanent survival shelter. This isn’t something that you’re going to spend a whole summer in (although you could if you were very desperate). This is a shelter designed to keep you insulated and out of the elements with minimal tools and minimal time put in. Here TA Outdoors has made an excellent short video outlining construction techniques:

Select your site

Like any other campsite you want an area that is safe from widow makers and and other falling hazards. As you’re sleeping on the ground you want to avoid areas where water will pool around you, and ideally you will find a spot that has plenty of material to construct your shelter.

Begin construction

What you want to find is either a stump or the crook of a tree low enough to the ground to prop a main beam onto and only leave a little bit of space between it and the ground. This is where your body will go, but you need about a half foot on all sides to fill with insulation. The beam should be at least 8 feet long and thick/sturdy enough to not break under a bit of weight.


Add Walls

Next break medium sized branches by using larger trees as a wedge and fulcrum. Break them into smaller pieces and prop them against the main beam to make walls on both sides. These branches should be about the diameter of a broom handle. These should be touching the ground on either side about a half foot from where you expect your body to lay. Leave an opening at the front where your head will go.

Add Insulation

After your walls are on start piling your insulation on the outside and inside. Use smaller sticks, moss, leaves, pine needles, anything that is relatively soft and dry. You want this on both the outside and the inside to insulate you from wind and cold. To prevent the wind from taking the insulation off the outside you can also pile sticks over it to keep it in place.

After the entire thing is finished crawl inside making sure to get the insulation between you and all sides as evenly as you can. Always remember that the ground can sap warmth from you as well so make sure there is insulation under you. To construct a makeshift door you can fill a shirt full of insulated debris and plug the hole in front of your head.

While this certainly will not rival your queen sized bed at home, or your awesome tent that you’re used to camping in, it will absolutely keep you alive if you find yourself in a tight spot. Just because you may not have tools doesn’t mean you can’t use your brain and your surroundings to stay alive!

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