Finding Shelter in the Wild

Dear Fellow Survivalist;

imagesI remember once when I was a teenager and got lost in the woods. Yes, believe it or not, I’ve made my share of mistakes too. Fortunately for me, I had already started studying survival; so, even though I wasn’t well equipped at the time, I did have some idea of what to do.

This happened high up in the Colorado Rockies. Even though it was summertime, there was still snow on the ground in spots. So it wasn’t really all that warm that high up. Night was falling and I needed to find some shelter quick. My companions wanted to keep walking, trying to find our way out, but when I told them how cold it would get after dark, they saw the wisdom of my plan.

The thing is, if you don’t have shelter after dark, your chances of survival drop immensely. Not only do you need shelter from the cold, but from wild animals as well. Stumbling around in the dark is dangerous, especially if you can’t see what’s around you and where you’re going.

The question is, if you don’t have a tent with you or even a tarp, what can you use for shelter?

There are actually quite a few things you can find in the wild, which can be used as shelter. To qualify, a shelter must provide protection from the rain, the wind and hopefully wild animals. Even if it only does that from one side, it still qualifies as shelter; although you ideally want something that protects you all the way around.

Some things you can use as a quick shelter in the wild include:

  • A cave
  • An undercut bank
  • Rock formations
  • The root mass from an overturned tree
  • A thicket of trees
  • A gully (as long as it’s not raining)
  • Abandoned human structures
  • A large pine tree

The key here is developing an eye towards seeing what there is and how you can use it. To most people walking around in the woods, it’s just nature. But when you’re looking at it as a survivalist, you’re constantly asking yourself how the things around you could help you survive. Doing that helps open your eyes to the possibilities.

In most cases, whatever you find in nature will need to be modified in some way, in order to make it a more effective shelter. Take a rock formation, for example. It’s rare to find a rock formation that provides you with protection all around and from above. But you could easily find a rock outcropping on the side of a hill, which offers you protection from two sides. The hillside itself could provide the fourth side of protection. Cutting some branches and placing them over the gap in the rocks could easily provide a roof. You now have a shelter. Build a fire in the entrance and you should be comfortable.

How about a pine tree? Pines are unique in that their branches grow straight out from the sides, rather than up. As the tree grows, the lower branches get longer and heavier. This causes them to sag towards the ground. Often, the tips of the lowest branches will touch the ground. But those branches, are three to four feet off the ground at the trunk. Cleaning out the dead branches underneath creates a nice, cozy shelter.

In order to turn what nature provides into a shelter, you have to have something to work with. Most shelters require cutting branches and placing them where they will give you protection. Some types require tying those branches in place. Having something to cut with and something to use as cord can make all the difference in the world.

Actually, having something to cut with could often be enough, as tall grasses can be used as cordage to hold a shelter together. So, just being in the habit of carrying a knife can make a huge difference in your ability to survive. A good knife may not be the easiest way of cutting a tree branch, but it’s better than trying to do it with your hands.

But the most important part is knowing what to do. There are many different designs of shelters you can make out of things you find in nature, such as a brush shelter or a lean-to. Those are great, but the range of ideas is literally limitless. Don’t limit yourself to what others have done; seek out your own ideas.

In the case I mentioned above, when I was a teen, I made a shelter by tying the tops of some saplings together. We used that as a structure and covered it with branches, making a nice, snug shelter. With a small fire in the middle, we were able to keep fairly warm all night; and in the morning managed to find our way and walk out. But if I hadn’t looked at what I could find, seeing how we could use it, we might have died from hypothermia.

Be sure to stop early enough to build your shelter and gather wood for the night. We actually didn’t and ended up finishing the shelter by firelight. While that worked in that one instance, I wouldn’t want to count on it in the future.

More than anything, being ready is being mentally ready. Train yourself, so that you’re ready when you need to be. Until next time, keep your powder dry and your survival equipment close at hand.

Dr. Rich


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