Your essential guide to building a basic wilderness survival shelter

When it comes to prepping, knowing how to deal with any situation is crucial to your survival. If you already know how to build a basic survival shelter, the tips below can help you improve your technique.

But if you’re a beginner when it comes to all things prepping, this guide can also teach you the basics of how to build a survival shelter that you can use when SHTF. (h/t to

The 5 universal principles for effective basic survival shelters

The ability to create an efficient wilderness survival shelter is an outdoor skill that can benefit anyone who wants to become a better prepper. A well-built shelter can ensure your survival because it will help protect you from the elements.

A survival shelter can also give you a place to rest, and they can also be your “home” out in the wilderness.

The seasons may change, and different environments may present different challenges for any prepper, but below are five of the universal principles for building effective wilderness survival shelters:

  1. Heat source – If you’re building a survival shelter in a cold environment, your main shelter concern is finding a way to stay warm so you can avoid hypothermia. Wilderness survival shelters often offer two heat sources: your body heat or a warm campfire. A wilderness shelter that relies on your body heat, like a debris hut, must be small on the inside with a lot of extra insulating debris. However, if you’re building a campfire instead, plan carefully so the flames can be tended all night. Gather enough firewood for at least one night and make sure that you don’t accidentally burn down your shelter.
  2. Insulation and cover – It doesn’t matter where you’re building a shelter because insulation and cover will protect you from the elements. Use debris like ferns, grasses, leaves, pine needles, and small sticks for insulation. You can also use debris to form a makeshift mattress inside your shelter, so you don’t have to sleep on the cold ground. Additionally, you can place some bark or soil on the top and sides of your shelter to form a barrier against the cold wind and rain.
  3. Location – When making a wilderness shelter, the most important thing to consider is its location. Before you build a shelter, make sure that it gives you access to building materials like dead sticks, grasses, and leaves and that it’s a safe distance away from major hazards such as falling branches and insect nests. Choose a location that offers a flat area big enough so you can lie down and sleep comfortably.
  4. Size – Effective wilderness survival shelters don’t have to be big. If you build a shelter that’s too large, it will take too much time, especially since you will need more materials to finish it. Focus on building a shelter that’s small on the inside but still large enough to fit your body so you can stay warm and conserve body heat. (Related: How to build an emergency shelter with a tarp.)
  5. Structure – As you’re planning your shelter, factor in your safety. Use large branches that are strong enough to be used as your shelter’s initial framework. Ideally, branches used for the framework should be sturdy enough to support the weight of an average adult, which is crucial when constructing a debris hut-style or lean-to shelters.

Types of wilderness survival shelters

The shelter you’ll build will usually depend on several factors like available building materials, environmental conditions, heat source, and if you’re going to build it for yourself or a group of people.

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  1. Debris hut – If you’re building a survival shelter for yourself, go with a debris hut since your own body heat can easily warm it.
  2. Debris tipi – When deciding on a suitable fire-heated shelter for a group, select the debris tipi.
  3. Lean-to shelter – If you prefer a one-person shelter that can safely house a campfire, build a lean-to shelter.
  4. Snow cave – During winter, a snow cave is your best bet when it comes to survival shelters. You have to dig a snow hole that’s big enough for you. A snow cave has insulating properties so even though snow is cold, it’s also perfect for trapping heat inside the snow cave.
  5. Tarp shelter – Consider the tarp shelter as a last resort because it is the flimsiest option in this list. But when SHTF, you won’t always have the luxury of choosing what you’re going to build your shelter with. For a tarp shelter, all you’ll need is a tarp or some cloth-like material, and a framework that you can hang the tarp on.

Make it a habit of assessing any location you’re in to see if you can easily build a suitable survival shelter, just in case SHTF. Remember that if you’re trapped in the middle of the woods, it’s better to be over-prepared. Knowing how to build a survival shelter that will suit various environments is a skill that’s going to help you get through whatever situation you find yourself in.

If you want to read more articles with tips and guides on how to build a wilderness survival shelter so you can stay safe and dry when SHTF, visit

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