How to Build a Survival Shelter

How to Build a Survival Shelter

How to Build a Survival or Emergency Shelter and Set Up Camp 


A good survival or emergency shelter is the absolute number one priority for survival in the wilderness – whether you are out in the wilderness for fun or been forced there by natural disasters.

If you find yourself lost or you’re stranded or even if you simply realize you don’t have enough time to get back home before dark, it then becomes very important to build a shelter

In any survival situation you can apply the survival rule of three to ensure success.

You will need to build a shelter within three hours, this may even be accelerated in cold conditions, especially if someone is suffering from hypothermia.snow shelter



However, you may well be lost in a cold climate, and if this is the case you must build a shelter almost immediately to prevent any hypothermia.

A shelter is your ‘home’ and defends against the elements, from potential predators, and even insects bite and stings.

It provides you with comfort and will physiologically boost your moral. Being able to ‘get away’ from the outside is essential for your well-being.

A survival shelter can be simply shelter constructed without using tools

A live tree is first used as the main center support. This can be a fork in the tree trunk or even cut down tree stump.

Find or cut a good solid branch that’s straight and place that firmly


into the ground and rest the other end into the fork in the main tree.

Use smaller branches to form the sides of the shelter – as many as you can get and as close together as possible.

Gather up as much vegetation as you can find and layer the outsides of the frame – layering from the ground up so the layers overlap the layer below to form a drip plate. The vegetation should be at least 2′ thick to ensure against any rain getting in.

Remember, an essential survival tool that will definitely help make the whole process quicker and easier is a woodland survival axe – in fact, some survivalist rate a good axe as a far more essential tool than a good quality Survival Knife



The shelter above forms the basis of most woodland shelters – but there are variations, like this lean-to woodland shelter.

Still based on the main support – this time between two main solid trees, then the branches are stacked up against the side and, again, covered with a thick layer of whatever vegetation is available.

If you think it will rain then the vegetation must be at least 2′ thick and layered down the side to help the water runoff, and must always have a good slope as well.


The snow cave survival shelter

This too can be constructed using snow, sticks and leaves, using the snow as the main building material – if you had to leave your home due to natural disasters in the winter, it would be very tough to survive – even surviving in the winter for ‘fun’ is a huge challenge.

snow shelter

Never burrow into deep snowdrifts – the soft snow can easily collapse.

Instead, it is much better to build a standalone shelter from the snow. In that way if the structure was to collapse you can get yourself out easily, otherwise, you may suffocate.

Make sure that the snow cave is built big enough to ensure that any part of your body is not touching the sides at any point.

If your body comes in contact with the very cold surface it will literally drain the heat from your body exposing you to the risk of hypothermia.


Always rake the snow off the ground inside the shelter and then put a layer of leaves or whatever vegetation is available on to the ground. This must be done to form insulation between you and the ground.

Additionally, put a thermal blanket on the ground if no vegetation is possible – something like a  Mylar Emergency Blanket is ideal for this.

Take advantage of your surroundings. 

Yet another snow survival shelter method is to dig out the snow from under a tree, down to the bare ground and then pile up all the snow along the sides.

Then use the tree itself as shelter and place pine boughs, or a tarp or poncho over the top to give you overhead cover.

You can even build your fire inside the snow shelter, but make sure to leave room for the smoke to escape.


As well as natural materials, you can use a wet weather poncho, various camping tarps and thermal blankets as survival shelter materials.

Once you realize you are in a more dangerous situation, you must always have your survival shelter constructed before dark. It is definitely recommended that your shelter is set up as soon as possible and you begin setting up camp immediately.

  • Always stop for a few minutes and take a little time to evaluate your situation and your surroundings to ensure you are making clear, correct decisions based on your survival.


Basic Shelter Materials – be prepared before you go out in the wild.


Ideally, and thinking ahead, you would have packed an emergency shelter into your rucksack – a Mylar survival tent like the Level One Emergency Tent shown here, is a must for survival and this one is very light and very compact, sleeps two people and is an essential bit of ‘emergency’ equipment to carry in your rucksack.



As well as a survival tent you should also carry basic survival equipment and materials such as:

  • 550 Paracord
  • a good quality Survival Knife
  • woodland survival axe
  • Survival Pocket Chain Saw.

Otherwise, you can use materials found in your environment and you can take advantage of natural features.


Building a survival shelter is the most important thing to do if you are lost or stranded in the wilderness – if you were forced out into the wild because of some unforeseen natural disasters, then knowing this skill is even more essential. Your shelter can make the difference between life and death and will help you overcome extremely harsh conditions.

If you get yourself protected from the elements, no matter how primitive that protection is, you will give yourself a huge increase of surviving.

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