HOW-TO: Select a Site For Your Shelter

Note: This article may contain commentary or the author's opinion.

When you’re camping like so many people do nowadays you simply drive your truck up to the campsite and pitch a tent in a designated spot next to the fire pit and picnic tables. Or if you go backpacking many people will select a spot that is very well worn and obvious that many people have slept there before. However, in a survival scenario there’s a few things to take into consideration when selecting a shelter site that could just save your life. 

First things first, you’re in a situation and you realize that shelter is your next top priority. The first two things that you want to look for are: 1. Is this area large and level enough for me to lie down comfortably? 2. If I don’t have a tent or tarp, does this area have material that I can use to build a shelter? These are the bare minimum requirements of a shelter spot, however depending on the type of situation you’re in there may be other factors to consider first.

  • Is this area safe from enemies or wild animals?
  • Does this area provide concealment from those threats?
  • Does this area have concealed escape avenues?
  • Is this area suitable for signaling to rescuers or friends, if necessary?
  • Is this area safe from falling rocks or trees?
  • Is this area safe from insects, reptiles, or poisonous plants?

Every environment has different challenges that must be overcome. For instance, if you’re in the New Mexico desert you may not have to be wary of flash flooding, mosquitos, or alligators. However, you will have to think about large cats and snakes, as well as exposure and possibly falling rocks. If you’re in the northern Rockies you may be factoring in things like bears, avalanches, and forest fires. If you’re in a bayou you’ll have your hands full simply finding dry ground that isn’t crawling with fire ants.

In some areas, the time of year is an even more important consideration than anything else. Especially during the winter months. Depending on your level of insulation your very first consideration may be finding an area that will protect you from the cold and wind, as well as a good source for fire-making fuel and fresh water. On the flip side during the hottest summer months you’ll be looking for an area with a fresh water source and shade that is away from the scourge of insects. Here’s a handy nemonic device. Remember to look for BLISS.

B – Blend In With Your Surroundings.

L – Low Silhouette

I – Irregular Shape

S – Small

S – Secluded Location

Another way to remember is called the “5 W’s”. 2 of these you want to be CLOSE TO and 3 of them you want to be AWAY FROM. The main ones to be close to are:

  1. Water – Be near water. You need a source of fresh water to stay alive.
  2. Woods – Be near woods. This is your source for fire fuel and shelter material.

The ones you want to be away from are:

  1. Wind – Be away from wind. One of the most common ways of dying in the woods is hypothermia.
  2. Widowmakers – Stay away from “widowmaker” trees. Dead trees next to your shelter can fall during windy times and kill you while you sleep.
  3. Wigglers – Stay away from wiggling pests. Insects, snakes, spiders, and other creepy crawly critters.

Join us in a future piece for learning the different types of shelters to build.

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