How to Make a Shelter

Shelter: It’s one of the back-country essentials, and in a survival situation it can save your life. But do you know how to make a shelter without your store-bought tent and directions in hand? Knowledge is power, and it weighs less than a tent. With some warm clothes, a poncho and some creativity, you’ll be able to spend weeks in the beautiful Washington wilderness with just a day pack.

Sometimes when I go to REI, I’m overwhelmed by all the gear; I have to spend hours talking with people, looking at different items and comparing prices. Then I still need to go try out whatever I bought and contemplate whether I’m using it correctly— and if it was worth the investment. I often wonder what people did without all of these things. I recently attended the Wilderness Walkabout Expedition through the Wilderness Awareness School. We were able to subsist off the land for 7 days with a few essential items (knife, trash bag, p-cord,  duct tape) and amazing instructors, with lots of knowledge to show us the way. It’s expeditions like this that really make me appreciate the simplicity and abundance found in nature.

How to Make a Shelter

Here are some quick and easy ways to set up shelters using sticks, duff (debris on the ground), a trash bag and a standard Military issue poncho:

First check the 5 W’s: Weather, Wind, Wigglys (don’t be on an ant hill), Water and Wood. You can tuck yourself in the forest to get out of the wind and rain. You’ll want to be close to a water source and have plenty of wood available so you can conserve energy without having to stray far for resources.

Now, to make your bed. You’ll do this by first outlining your sleeping area with large sticks or logs. I like to lay down first with my arms outstretched, and then mark my hands, feet and head. Then add about a foot on all sides. Pile up the frame of sticks so that it creates at least a 6inch deep wall all around sides (deeper is better). Now pile on the duff. No such thing as too much duff!

How to Make a Shelter

Let’s add the poncho. Depending on weather, there are many different set ups. We’ll go over a few, but when you try this yourself, you’ll find more creative uses…

If the weather is relatively nice, you can just put the poncho on and sleep in that. The plastic like material will keep your upper body warm. You can fill the trash bag with debris and use it to cover your feet. We were calling it the duffvet (duvet).

How to Make a Shelter

 

How to Make a Shelter

If you encounter rain, you can use the poncho in a tarp style set up. Make a ridge line from corner to corner and then secure each to a tree using a Taught Line Hitch (this will allow you to raise or lower it for warmth and room). Then secure the other 2 corners to the ground with a stake or heavy rock. This will protect you from the rain, and it will trap heat keeping you warmer in the night (we’ll talk more about tarp set up in a future article).

 

How to Make a Shelter

If you’re still not warm enough, you can make another duffvet for your upper body. Yup, it’s that simple and works incredibly well!

There you have it. Simple, easy and effective. If you’re looking for more wilderness skills, come check out one our classes at the Wilderness Awareness School.

Or practice at home!  You can try it in your backyard or test it out while backpacking, but take your tent as a backup until you feel comfortable with your shelter.

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