When you’re in the outdoors, knowledge is the key to survival. Of the necessities of life, shelter is one of the most crucial. It is important to know the different types of shelters it is possible to build, when they fit, and how to build them. These skills are not only useful for camping without a tent, they may save your life if you ever find yourself stuck or lost outdoors away from civilization.
What type of shelter you will build depends on the supplies you have available, the season and weather conditions, and how much time you realistically have before you need to have protection. If you are building a shelter five minutes before nightfall in a heavy storm, time is much more critical than if you are just setting up camp in the afternoon to cook a meal and relax before sleep.
One of the easiest and quickest shelters to setup is the poncho lean-to. It can be made with only a knife, poncho or other large sheet of cloth or plastic, two trees, and a bit of rope. Tie a knot around each tree with a length of rope, and then attach that rope to the corner of the poncho. Most should have pre-made grommets for tying rope, but if they aren’t available you can also tie a knot in the corner to attach the rope. Then, use a couple of small sticks to stake the poncho into the ground in the direction from which the wind is coming. Get ready to build a fire on the other side, and you will be very well protected from the wind and rain in just a few minutes.
If a larger poncho is available, a two-sided poncho tent can be constructed simply by tying a rope taught between two trees, then draping the fabric to where there is an even amount on both sides. Stake the poncho to the ground and you are finished. A tent will provide more protection than a lean-to, but requires more materials.
A one-man shelter is constructed with a poncho and three long stakes or branches. Lean one stake against a tree, and secure it at about waist height. Drape the poncho over the stake so that there is even material on either side, and wrap the fabric around the other two stakes to create a floor for your very low tent. The protection of this shelter is unmatched, but provides room for only one person as its name would imply. It is also very easy to keep warm due to its small size. One caveat to this shelter type is that even a light snowfall will make it prone to collapse very easily, which would be very bad to wake up to.
If a large amount of time is available a debris hut is the ultimate in comfort and reliability. It is constructed by placing one long branch at an angle, and then creating a framework of ‘ribs’ with smaller branches running across it in a wedge shape. Once this has been done, smaller branches and grasses are then woven lengthwise to create a criss-cross pattern. Finally, a large amount of insulating materials should be placed on top of this framework. This can include leaves, dirt, pine needles, more branches, plants, and anything else that will keep the warm air in and the water out. A poncho or other waterproof layer can also be used either on top or in the middle of the debris to create a completely moisture-proof barrier.
Finally, it is important to look out for potential natural shelters in the area. A cave, hole, hollowed out tree, or previously made survival shelter can be touched up to create something much better than what could be made in a matter of minutes yourself. Just make sure there are no wild animals or poisonous insects dwelling where you would like to make your home.
By creating one of these shelters, you can greatly improve your chance of survival when stuck out in the wild. Follow your gut, and build the one that best fits your situation. Most importantly, practice building one or more of these shelters before you really need them.