If you’re in a SHTF survival situation, one of the first things you will need to think about building a survival shelter. There are certain factors you should take into consideration when building a shelter in the wilderness. Les Stroud (“Survivorman”) calls them “The Five W’s” — an easy way to remember the 5 most important factors involved with choosing a good location for shelter building.
Where’s the Wood?
Wood to build your survival shelter – When you’re building a survival shelter, you will most likely be using wood. It is the most typical item that is readily available in the woods. Makes sense, right? You’re going to need to find a location with ample wood to be used for shelter making. Even if you happen to be near a “safe” cave, you may need wood to supplement your shelter. Using 550 cord or bushcrafted cordage, you can lash branches to small trees to make your shelter, or you may have to start from scratch and build a pup tent style shelter where the wood supports itself.
The video below shows Lilly using a thermal reflective blanket as a tarp to build a shelter which is a great idea — it reflectes your body heat and the heat from a fire outside the door to help warm you. But if you don’t have one, you can still build your survival shelter the same basic way. Cut longer branches to go all the way across the back, tie them off, and shingle the back with the foliage covered boughs from the ground up to help repel water or snow. In all honesty though, if you’re carrying your bug-out bag, you should at least have some emergency blankets, and they’ll do the same as the tarp, plus you can cover it with foliage and leaves to help insulate.
Wood for fire – You’ll definitely need wood for fire fuel. You’re going to need small twigs medium-sized branches, and possibly even larger logs. It’s a good idea to always carry a foldable saw blade in your bug-out bag with you to help cut firewood down to a manageable size. The small stuff will, of course, be used for actually getting the fire started. This will be your tinder. The branches will be the main fuel on the fire. When you go to sleep, you may want to throw a large log on the fire so it smolders all night, otherwise you might wake up to nothing but ash and have to start all over again. It’s much nicer to have embers the next morning for your “breakfast” fire — how else are you going to put the percolator on for coffee?
Primitive tools out of wood – If you need a certain tool, but you just forgot to pack it, fashion a new one from wood! Hammers, spears, containers, rafts, utensils, and other essential tools for survival can all be bushcrafted from wood in the wild. Ensure you have a good supply of wood around your location before setting up camp.
Watch the Weather
You are either dealing with weather, or preparing for weather in a SHTF survival situation. Always be aware of the weather.
Heat vs Cold – In hot weather, you may not need much shelter at all, but you’ll most likely need more water. Be sure to fill your water bottle as often as possible so you can stay hydrated. In cold weather, you will need a thoroughly insulated shelter that will block wind and hold in heat from your body and fire. This is where those emergency blankets will come in handy in more ways than one.
Here comes the rain! – If the skies are clear, rain cover will not be very important — especially if you are in a desert. You still want to shield yourself from the sun, though so you don’t fall to dehydration or worse, heat stroke. However, if rain is eminent, you will need to put some extra effort into making your shelter water-tight. You might also consider setting up something to catch rainwater to use as drinking water. Worse than that, if there is a thunderstorm coming, make sure you’re on low ground away from tall trees so you’re not as likely to be hit by lightning.
Is that snow? – When snow falls, you will want to insulate your shelter as much as possible with straw and branches that still has lots of foliage — evergreens are your best bet here. You may also want to make some sort of door to keep the snow out. There are even shelters you can build that allow for a small fire inside.
If you’re keeping a keen eye on the weather, you may be able to predict issues ahead of time so you’re not all of a sudden caught out in the bad weather rushing to improve your shelter.
Be Wary of Widowmakers
Have you ever been out in the woods on a hike and see a huge dead tree that you just knew was going to eventually fall? Maybe you’ve seen one that had already fallen because it had rotted. Those are widowmakers. The term typically refers to dead trees or large boulders that could potentially fall on you without warning. It’s a good idea not to ever make your camp under or near a big dead tree or a huge rock that hasn’t fallen. Even if it looks sturdy — like it has been in that position for a long time — do not take the chance. If you are in the way, you could be injured, trapped, or worse — dead (hence the term “widowmaker”). This is where situational awareness is very important — always be aware of your surroundings.
“Wigglies” is a term that generally refers to any creepy, crawly critters that could present any kind of problem. The kind of wigglies you want to look out for the most would of course be venomous creatures like snakes, spiders and scorpions. If you are out in the woods a lot, you should definitely learn more about the animals indigenous to your area so you will know the venomous from the non-venomous ones (not that you necessarily want to mess with either). The best course of action is to steer completely clear of them if you can, or at least know enough to get around them. This is where your situational awareness will come into play again.
Some bugs and creepy crawlers (like ticks and gnats) will be more of an irritating nuisance than an eminent danger, but even those critters can become dangerous if they prevent you from getting good sleep. In fact, most insects can actually be dangerous — like biting ants and disease carrying mosquitoes. You will want to make yourself as comfortable in the woods as humanly possible so you are not stressed and can actually relax into your situation (even if it is a SHTF situation). A good fire will usually keep away the pesky insects due to the heat and smoke, but you can also rub mud and/or plants like sagebrush, wormwood, and mugwort on exposed skin to deter many insects and bugs. Likewise, you can burn those plants to amplify their bug-repelling power.
We Want Water!
Even if you brought water with you, it is a good idea to know the location of the nearest water source. If there is no water source nearby, you will eventually have to abandon that shelter location very quickly and move to find water in an emergency situation. (Remember, you can only survive 3 days without water!)
Set your camp within 100 yards of a water source if possible to limit the amount of travel you have to do to get to the water. Make sure you always carry a container with you so when you find water, you have something in which to collect the water. Chances are, you’re going to need to purify it, so you can’t just scoop it up from the source in your hands and drink it. If you have a stainless steel container, you can purify the water by boiling it right in the container in which you collected it.
How to not worry about your SHTF Survival Shelter
There is no substitution for knowledge in survival situations. It’s a recurring theme on this website — knowledge weighs nothing, and nobody can take it away from you. If you take the time to learn all you can about your environment and surrounding areas, you will be better prepared if that SHTF time comes. Once you learn something new about your area, teach someone that doesn’t know so they are better prepared, too.
What are your tips for building a survival shelter?