A crucial survival skill to have is the knowledge of building or finding adequate shelter. Keeping your body warm or cool is imperative to staying alive.
There’s one housing segment the mortgage crisis hasn’t affected: the outdoor survival shelter. In our region, forests are everywhere – meaning, all the materials you need to build a shelter are readily at hand.
“Small is beautiful,” says Steve Hambling, who teaches wilderness survival at Indiana University. A shelter is meant to keep you warm (hence the small) and dry. Steve recommends a debris hut, which you can make in a few hours with no tools. Here’s how:
Step 1: Select a site. “Location, location, location” Steve says about getting started. “If you choose a spot with a lot of material nearby, it’s easier.” An ideal spot will be near the woods for raw materials but in a sunny area for warmth and light. “It’ll dry out faster,” Steve notes. You don’t want the door to face west, which is generally the direction of prevailing winds and rain in our region. Facing east will get you the morning light. What is essential to your site selection is safety: make sure there are no snags or other hazards that might fall on you, and make sure you’re not in a spot where water will collect if it rains. Avoid poison ivy and camp near a water supply.
Step 2: Place the shelter ridge pole. Find a crook in a tree or the spot where a trunks splits into two. Find a long, stout branch (your height plus two feet should do) and wedge it into the crook. The branch should be strong enough to support your weight. Make sure you can enter the opening but that it’s not too big – this shelter will only provide warmth if it’s tight around you. Make sure the opening (head area) is not sloping downhill.
Step 3: Create the shelter skeleton. Collect branches to place as ribs along the backbone of the shelter. They have to be strong enough to support the weight of a huge pile of smaller branches and leaves. You’ll need to break some of the (dead) branches, so be sure to do so using your foot and the ground. Don’t break branches over your thigh or knee, or you might hurt yourself when you can least afford to.
Step 4: Create a lattice work of smaller branches. Make a dense layer of small branches that will prevent your insulation layer – usually leaves – from falling into the inside of the shelter. Don’t be stingy.
Step 5: Pile on your insulating layer. Collect leaves, pine needles, grasses and whatever other insulating material is at hand and pile the hell out of the shelter. This is what is going to keep you warm and dry. When you’re finished, pile on twice as much as what’s already there and then you’re really finished. The debris should be several feet thick.
Step 6: Get cozy. Place insulation on the floor of your shelter. “The ground sucks so much heat away from you,” Steve cautions, “A good foot-thick (layer) of debris underneath you makes a world of difference.” Finally, pile insulation outside the door to plug yourself in (feet first) for the night. Sweet dreams!
Remember to always practice Leave No Trace principles. In this case, that means never use live materials – only use fallen and dead branches, twigs, leaves and grasses. When you’re finished using your shelter, disassemble it and spread the branches and other materials in a way that makes it look like you were never there.