10 Critical Points You Need To Know About Building Any Natural Shelter

Critical Points You Need To Know About Building Any Natural Shelter

People underestimate just how quickly a bright, sunny day can turn into a dangerous situation.

That short hike through the woods could turn into a life threatening situation in a matter of minutes.

Did you know that temperatures as low as only forty degrees  can lead to hypothermia when high wind and rain are factored in)?

In a survival situation, having the proper shelter can mean the difference between life and death.

We must evaluate how soon you want to build your shelter.  The rule of three states that without shelter, you can be dead in as little as 3 hours.

If we are dealing with rain and wind, that number drops to minutes.

Rapid loss of body heat  can lead to impaired motor movement.

When our clothing becomes wet, it loses its insulating properties.

Imagine trying to start a fire while shaking, fumbling around and unable to use your fingers properly.

If you find yourself in a situation where you are lost or disoriented there is one Acronym that you need to remember to improve your survival chances.


Stop and Think about the situation.

Observe the area and then Plan your actions.

Ask yourself things like as: Am I in immediate danger?

Are there enough building and fire materials in the area?

Am I  somewhere that can be easily seen by rescuers?

The worst  thing you can do is allow fear to cause you to act irrationally.

If you get the slightest inkling that you are off course and lost… STOP!

Walking any further will  only increase the distance from your last known position and can significantly reduce the chances of being found by rescue.

Immediate shelter could be found under a spruce tree, or some form of natural cover, but sometimes that just isn't an option…

If that is the case, you need to know how to effectively and efficiently create shelter from your surroundings.

Contrary to all of the popular Survival shows, building a primitive shelter from scratch isn't something that can be done in just a few minutes.

Crafting a proper shelter that takes care of your needs, takes time, training and effort.

In fact, my buddy J.J. from Reality Survival has 10 key points that you need to know about building a primitive shelter:

By the way, have you ever wondered exactly how much work really goes into building one of these shelters?

Check out the video below to find out:

1. Building a natural shelter requires a lot of work!  If you need to build one of these in a wilderness survival situation plan to spend several hours of time working on it, if you want a shelter that will be water proof.

2.  In some environments a natural shelter can be constructed without using any manmade materials, including cutting tools or cordage.  But that is generally the exception and not the rule.  In most of the continental United States you will likely want/need to have an axe, saw or machete in order to build a good reliable natural shelter.

3. You should start with a solid frame work for your natural shelter.  Ensure the frame work that you build is heavy duty enough to be able to hold your own body weight at a minimum.

This way if you get a surprise snow storm the shelter frame work can bear the additional weight of the snow.  I recommend having the main ridge pole or load bearing pole that is at least 4 inches in diameter made of a very solid and sturdy pole (green is best).

4. Ensure the pitch (angle)  of the sides and back are at least 45 degrees.  It can be tempting to build a natural shelter with a flat or slightly sloped roof.  This is a huge mistake.  Always make sure you have the proper pitch so that the water will run off adequately.

5. Thickness.  The thickness of the natural material you are using needs to be thick enough so that when you look up through the material from the inside you can’t see any light coming through.  If you see spots of light, you will certainly have rain coming through if the weather gets bad.

Click here to check out the 5 remaining tips you need to know before building a natural shelter.

Want more tips? Check out these great articles on our site:

Build a DIY Survival Shelter for Only $5!

How To Build A Shelter Using Natural Resources

Survival Shelters: Things You Need To Know

22 Responses to :
10 Critical Points You Need To Know About Building Any Natural Shelter

  1. Matt says:

    There is more than a few things misleading to the point of being dangerous in this article. First of all, people don’t just go out and walking around with a machete in their hands. My guess is that if you have a machete you probably have other things … like a tent … which would render this entire article unnecessary.

    1) The “rule of 3” is total B.S. … A healthy adult can survive more than a “few minutes” neck deep in a lake in Minnesota in the middle of winter (otherwise the “polar bears” would all be dead). A SERE instructor should know this unless he was taught under the milk toast nonsense the military has been teaching the last 8-ish years with its “stress cards” and other idiocy.

    2) In all but the sand dune sections of the continental US a basic “lean to” can be constructed with your shoe strings and ripping your shirt into pieces (weakened from the rain and tore using your teeth to get a rip started). Larger branches can be yanked off trees or bushes and then small pieces with lots of foliage ripped off and layered for the rain. A lean-to only needs to be a few inches wider than your body to keep the wind and bulk of the rain off of you. The activity of doing all that breaking of junk off living trees/bushes will keep your blood more than moving enough to maintain decent dexterity of your limbs.

    3) The overwhelming majority of hypothermia deaths from people “just out and walking around” happen in mountainous regions with plenty of trees and other natural shelter. So let me say this now …

    Fire is infinitely more important than shelter in virtually any survival situation. Now yes, if you’re in extreme temperatures and inclement weather such as a blizzard or 125 in the shade that’s a different deal.

    When rain first starts, a fire can be built under virtually any tree (using a bow drill) unless you live in one of the places (e.g. Colorado) where the rain goes from nothing to a deluge in minutes. However in those places the rain only lasts a few minutes as well and can easily be “waited out”.

    If people who recognize they are in a survival situation would simply start by building a fire, other things become much easier, including construction of a shelter.

    Fire, water, THEN shelter.

    You are much more likely to die from lack of drinkable water than you are from hypothermia and a good fire staves off hypothermia AND gives you a way of purifying water.

    1. PaoloItaly says:

      Hi Matt,
      I concur with most of the statement with one or two exceptions. The statement that an adult individual can survive more than few minutes in cold water immersion is true but requires a bit of putting the issue into perspective. Cold water immersion causes four distinct phases of which hypothermia is the third. In order we go through: Cold Shock Response, Cold Incapacitation, Hypothermia and Circum-Rescue Collapse. While hypothermia can take up to 30 minutes to onset even during immersion in cold water, what we need really to be concerned is Cold Incapacitation the onset of which is from 5 to 15 minutes from immersion. In cold water immersion vaso-constriction decreases blood flow to the extremities in an effort to preserve heat in the core, thereby protecting the vital organs but allowing the periphery to cool. Unfortunately, muscle and nerve fibres don’t work well when cold. Within this critical time frame you will lose meaningful movement in your hands and feet, and then your arms and legs, so if you’re not wearing a floatation device, you will be unable to stay afloat. Unfortunately we are not from the evolutionary view point like polar bears.
      For the common street folks I’d like to say that trying to light a fire with a bow drill in wet conditions is equivalent to a mission impossible. Sure fire is what is needed which means something to light a tinder bundle in all conditions. Keep a lighter in a plastic bag, keep a fire-steel (ferrocerium rod) and maybe some wind proof matches, all more affordable means to the common layman; and keep some tinder fuel with you like the usual cotton balls impregnated with Vaseline and you will never be out of options. Know where to get dry tinder and kindling even when all around is wet.
      Concerning the machete I agree, I cant see why someone would carry a machete and not other things, a good multi-tool or pocket knife is more likely to occasionally be part of the gear of the average trekker.
      And never forget that the first line of defense against exposure is your clothing, you wear them, no need for extra packing.

      1. Lowell says:

        Couldn’t agree more. Anyone who has actually experienced cold incap. knows it will KILL you fast. And a Bow Drill takes a lot of practice and even more effort to make it work. I’ve been trained and still look for any other method of starting a fire first, it only comes before rubbing sticks. Water and wind chill get most people first, even in good conditions if you get wet from any source and there’s a wind it can get dangerous fast.

  2. Joan says:

    Thank you Matt. This was great information. Simple, basic survival info is what
    regular folk need.

  3. Chris Riker says:

    OK,So I have not heard about bug out bags or survival stashes for our four legged pals that we wouldn’t dream of leaving behind.

  4. Ferdo says:

    Leave the space blankets at home. When I walk in the woods to the point I could have problems I carry a small day pack with a sheet of plastic for shelter and a can of chafing fuel, and a spool of catfish line. The whole thing will fit in a lunch bag and weighs practically nothing.

    Space blankets are over sold.

    My whole kit fits in my pocket vest…lol

    1. JF says:

      I respectfully disagree. Duct tape the space blanket to the inside of your plastic sheet and it will make a huge difference and still fit in your pocket..

      1. PaoloItaly says:

        I agree, space blankets are a very useful tool,the real one, not the flimsy type sold by Coglans. They make for a good reflective surface for maximizing the fire-shelter combination efficiency. Keeping a huge fire going all night is a lot of work, a space blanket can maximize a small fire heat radiating properties.

  5. that “shelter” leaves too much space for cold air to blow in. you don’t need to cut branches that thick. just pile up crap to block wind or against a tree or rock windbreaks, and slither inside.

  6. ChewyBees says:

    @Matt has a great offering of what should be considered the best solution. I don’t want to take away from that, but rather offer an addendum.

    The most important survival tool, in any situation, is the ability to control one’s mind. This is why people plan out dire circumstance to begin with. It is so if they come across the situation, that person has a ground game to work from.

    Panic is a killer far sooner than not having a lean-to. Panic will kill long before thinking of lighting a fire. In the dark, hearing the sounds that nature so generously provides as a man’s demise, is a 170 bpm heart rate and a series of totally ridiculous decisions.

    Fight or flight is an important element in the psyche of men. Unless kept under check, it is also the failure of men. I am not trying to discredit the post or comments, but IMO the most important realisation in a time of survival, is that you cannot, and will not, survive if you are freaking out and acting irrationally.

    Being in the dark, and in the woods alone, is about the scariest thing I have ever encountered. Yet, the challenge is realising that you are in a situation that requires calm, patience, and determination to make survival a factor.

    Then a fire, how much that is home. God (and I) so much love a fire…

    1. Matt says:

      @ChewyBees … I have to absolutely agree with you. Action induced by fear or worse panic almost always results in the wrongthe incorrect action being taken. Stopping for a second, taking a breath, and THINKING before just blindly acting is probably the REAL first think you should do.

  7. Duncan says:

    A lean-to is insufficient in real cold. If all you can manage is a lean-to, then fire becomes much more important. But there’s another type of shelter that works to keep you warm even in the middle of winter without fire. The only trick is you’ll need a LOT of forest debris. Think of it like 2 lean-tos forming a normal pitched roof shape. Fill the interior with debris and burrow into the middle of it. You’ll need at least 3 feet of debris on all sides although four is better. If you’re in a deciduous forest it should be possible to build this shelter faster than you can make a fire, assuming you have no fire making materials-not even a knife. If you have a knife and it’s not raining, it might make sense to go for the fire first. What order you put water in is also situational. You can go three days if you start hydrated.

    Here’s the most important things to think of when considering order:

    Hypothermia/exposure can slow you down or even kill within 3 hours-or sooner.

    Thirst will kill in 3 days give or take individual situations.

    Lack of food could take 15-30 days to kill.

    1. Matt says:

      Survival is “situational” so there are no hard rules that always apply.

      HOWEVER, the “3 hour” rule is largely B.S. “Hypothermia *CAN* kill you in three hours.” … so yes, it CAN happen. But it really doesn’t, not that fast.

      The three hours is true IF the clock doesn’t start until Hypothermia has set in AND the person doesn’t try to stay moving AND doesn’t try to do anything to elude the elements AND they are dressed inappropriately for the weather AND does any number of other stupid things.

      I live in a very mountainous region in “sky country.” We have people every single year that get lost and are found DAYS later still alive. Yes hypothermic, yes injured, but that’s DAYS later, not hours.

      That’s 12,000 plus feet in altitude with temps NEVER getting above freezing and night time temps well below 0.

      So I’m sorry, the “3 hour rule” for hypothermia is largely nonsense.

  8. Always construct your home on high ground and in warm climate. This will eliminate these foolish problems that people create!!

  9. TJ says:

    Not to sound heartless, but if someone ends up in these situations without even the smallest amount of necessary gear, it’s kinda like thinning the herd. I can’t fathom a scenario where the items in my pockets wouldn’t allow me to survive.
    Even a small fanny pack or day pack with water, knife, flint, etc should be on your shoulder if you decide to venture off for a hike with no compass nor reliable sense of direction.
    If someone ventures off unprepared, it’s natural selection if they don’t make it out. Sorry, but it’s just my 4 cents, adjusted for inflation.

  10. John says:

    Ah the age old debate – Whats the most important asset in a survival situation? Water? fire? Shelter? Food? .. Well truth be told – it is none of these – its your head! There is no right answer to the question, mother nature and your physical condition will dictate that answer for you. Are you cold, wet and night is falling? Are you really gonna try to build a fire with a BOW DRILL? Can it be done? Sure it can, but you had better have spend hundreds and hundreds of hours practicing that skill before you set out relying on it. Personally, I would get myself out of the wind and potential weather. NASAR statistics bare witness to the fact that most people die of exposure long before they die of dehydration! Is Fire important? OH YES IT IS! Am I gonna spend two hours gathering the materials for a bow drill and prepping them all while loosing daylight? Absolutely NOT. Even an expert can fail with primitive methods. So – use your head, let nature tell you what you need first. BE PREPARED. I always carry 2 fire starters with me. A lighter and a flint and steel laced into my right shoe. If I am doing on a day hike or an afternoon hunting, I carry a small survival pack. By small, I mean 4 items. 2 emergency blankets, a 25′ length of para cord and knife. (Remember I already have a source of fire.).. This original article made me laugh.. carry an AX.. ya right!

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