How to Build a Survival Shelter to Save Your Life: Top 7 Ideas

Table of Contents

Introduction

You are looking for a guide on how to build a survival shelter to save your life in critical outdoor conditions. Yes? Then the right place to learn and build a survival snow shelter on your own.

Anyone who has spent a great deal of time outdoors knows that you can’t be prepared enough for what may lie ahead. That’s, in fact, one of the reasons why many people are attracted to the outdoors. There is always something that will happen, good or bad, when you least expect it. The weather can turn great, offering loads of picture opportunities, or it can turn into a nightmare, where you’re struggling to survive long enough to be rescued or get back home.

Why should we learn to build a survival shelter?

Knowing how to build a survival shelter can be very important for anyone who lives through an emergency situation in the wilderness. Statistics show that exposure to harsh elements is one of the leading causes of death in most winter survival situations. A shelter can work as the primary tool used to mitigate that threat. The need to build a shelter is second to only having the ability to build a fire, and even that can be a challenge during wet conditions.

Now that we know precisely why it’s imperative to learn to build a survival or primitive shelter, we’ll move on to building various types of shelters. Keep in mind that every kind of shelter serves a different purpose and does not necessarily have to be challenging to build.

Some survival shelters are better suited to help shield you from certain types of weather, while others can help keep you safe when the temperatures suddenly plummet. So, ideally, you should know how to build various kinds of survival shelters for emergency survival situations and what you can use to build a shelter (material depends on the shelter types and situation). We will discuss the most common types a little later on.

How much it is helpful to learn survival skills

One of the first things you need to consider before you even learn how to build a survival shelter is how useful it is? We also often tell people that they should know the basic survival skills and practice them at least multiple times a year, even if they don’t need to. Practice will make it possible to successfully build a shelter in a matter of hours.

As human beings, one of the ways to survive is to ensure that our body’s temperature remains stable, which will vary depending on where we are in the world. You will want to prevent exposure to excessive heat or cold. If you are perhaps building a shelter in the desert in, let’s say, in July along the southwestern coast, you are probably doing so to avoid the heat and cool off if possible. However, move up to the Pacific Northwest, you’ll be attempting to stay warm, and that will call for a whole different type of shelter to insulate your body’s heat.

How does shelter protect us from wilderness survival?

Generally speaking, you’ll need a survival shelter to help shield you from exposure, as we read above. It will help you stave off the cold and even take refuge from the scorching heat if needed. It does not have to be as comfortable as home, but it needs protection. Having a valuable skill like survival and shelter can help offer you a sense of place in the wilderness and can help prevent panic, though these are just tangential benefits. The main reason for having a shelter is to avoid exposure.

How to build a survival shelter in various methods

Now that you are aware that there are various types of shelters and willing to learn to build a shelter for any extreme situation. It’s time to dive into the most common types. We’ll also briefly go into how to build one of these structures. As mentioned earlier, they are easy to build, but you’ll want to practice building a few of them, so it reduces the time it takes to set them up. Let’s see the process of how to make survival shelters one by one.

Building Insulated Shelters

Let’s talk about how you insulate a survival shelter with no tools. When out in the cold, one way to insulate body heat and any other type of heat like that from a fire is to build an insulated shelter. Fortunately, building one is pretty straightforward.

Generally, you’ll be creating a natural sleeping bag out of all the materials available in the wild. You’ll need a large amount of debris or any other materials that will help trap your body heat while having pockets of air warmed by your body.

Once your body comes in contact with all the materials and starts to heat up, thanks to the body’s natural temperature, it seizes the cooling process so long as the heat is trapped. The big issue with building insulated shelters is that you need high-quality materials to trap heat. If there isn’t sufficient insulation, they are useless.

How do you build a shelter with natural resources?

Let’s take the debris hut as an instance, which happens to be the best one for insulated shelters. It works to create a framework that can then be piled on with whatever you can find. You can use leaves, moss, grass, pine needles, etc. The inside is packed with lots of debris, and you seal the entrance to trap heat within the shelter.

You will want to pile on at least three feet of debris on the shelter, and the inside should be packed so that you can barely get in with around twelve inches of debris between the ground and yourself.

Heated shelter for survival

We know one question pops up in your mind: How do you build a shelter in extreme cold? In that case, the heated shelter could save your life. Generally speaking, building a heated shelter is a lot quicker because you require a lot fewer materials and also because you’re relying heavily on a fire to keep the human body warm. The shelters are partially open to the elements, and that means they are susceptible to heat loss, which is why it is imperative to keep the fire going throughout the night or day, whichever may be the case. When building a heated shelter, the shelter provides little protection from the weather but is designed to keep the fire going.

Now even though you need far fewer materials to build heated shelters, you still need to have enough firewood for the job because if you don’t, then it means your shelter will become cold. Also, you never want to run out of wood halfway through the night. Most of the problems associated with a heated shelter have to do with the inefficiency of the fire, in other words building a fire that’s too small. 

The significant benefit of heated shelters is that the fire will start to warm you up immediately and reverse hypothermia instead of just preventing it before the onset. Also, fires can be made bigger if and when required. So, if you’re feeling cold, maybe add more wood to the stove. 

The Ramada Shelter

When you are conscious about building a wind shelter, you can try this one. It is one of the most basic types of shelters that you can build, and it is meant to keep the sun off your back and offer some wind protection. However, building the Ramada is more challenging than other structures we’ll discuss since they need some beams, roofing, and posts. Having a tarp on hand will make building it a lot easier and more efficient.

The Ramada shelter consists of some tarp thrown up on four branches that support it in its simplest form. If you need wind protection, a removable wall will need to be also built, consisting of a tarp. Think of Ramada as a shelter that’s not great, but it offers some pretty good protection.

The Tarp Wing Shelter

If you have to survive in the rain or need to build a shelter in the rainforest, then it is for you. The tarp wing waterproof survival shelter is the best choice for conditions when it is raining. You can build it by securing opposite corners of the tarp up on top and the two others lower down. While the setup does not protect you from the wind, it effectively keeps the occasional rain away from your campsite and potentially extinguishes the warm fire. It’s also an excellent way to create a shady patch during a hot summer’s day.

The A-Frame Shelter

When you are stuck in the jungle and need to build a shelter in the wilderness for surviving, then an A-frame survival shelter might be chosen. It is arguably the most common structure and highly effective during an emergency survival. As the term suggests, the A-frame requires building a frame, but you’ll also need to have some tarp on hand. What’s more, it takes only a few minutes to build if you’ve got everything.

Here is how to build it:

  •   You start by tying some cord between two posts or trees. Then drape the tarp over it and tie the corners down. If the rope is something you forgot to carry along, you can still set it up with ease by using two sticks to build what’s called an A shape then a long sturdy branch that goes from the top over to the ground.
  •   If you want more security, add more A-frames along the length of the longest branch, which works as support.
  •   Then cover it up with leaf litter, brush, pine boughs, tarp, or even bark, the same way by leaning on to it. A-frame shelters using tarps and leaf coverings are very versatile because you can build them very close to the ground, or they can also be suspended, in which case they become a survival hammock. You can also make a bough bed using dry leaves, grass, evergreen boughs, fir boughs, plant material, etc.

The A-frame is an excellent choice to shelter you from the snowy, windy, and rainy conditions. However, the closer you are to the ground, the more effective it will be. However, the A-frame should have steep walls if built-in snowy conditions to avoid being weighed down.

The Round Lodge Shelter

The round lodge is a very involved emergency shelter, but you also get lots of room to protect yourself from the elements. Here is how you can build one in around an hour or so with practice:

  •   You start by gathering sturdy branches, ideally a dozen of them.
  •   You then lean them together, fastened from the top. They should look like a cone.
  •   You then use the tarps, tree branches, skins, mud, bark, or anything else to build the walls. The more heavy-duty your material, the better insulation it will offer.
  •   You will also want to leave an opening right at the top if you’re going to probably build a fire at night. The opening should be positioned away from the wind if possible. However, the direction of the wind changes, so your best guess based on the weather is all you can do.

The drawback to the round lodge shelter is that it takes a little longer to construct. However, the upside is that it provides shelter to several people, and it’s large enough to accommodate a fire indoors.

The Desert Tarp Shelter

It is also referred to as the double roof tarp shelter, and it is primarily meant to keep you safe from the deadly sun. If you’re stuck in the middle of the desert, one of your prime concerns is preventing overheating. However, that’s only possible if you can take refuge.

The shelter has been used in the Middle East and Africa for two centuries and was first introduced by the military. Some say it kept the French foreign legion alive in the Middle East. However, you will need large tarps to build the structure.

Here is how you build it:

  •   You start by digging a low spot in the ground; around 2 feet should be delicate.
  •   You then tie the first tarp to two opposing straight poles just a couple of inches off the ground. Make sure to use a sturdy pole. You then fasten the second one a foot above the first. Rope with stakes should work fine. However, if you’re in between two large rocks, then you’ve got your work cut out for you. Also, you can fold over the tarp for the second layer as long as there is a foot of distance.

The shelter uses the power of thermodynamics to help keep you shaded and cool.

The Snow Cave Winter Survival Shelter

Now, if you’re looking to build a so-called ice palace, the snow shelter is perhaps what you’re looking for, at least if you’ve got enough snow. Snow caves are very complex, and that’s why they take a little longer to build, and you also need the right pile of snow. If anything, these should be your last resort since the ventilation isn’t good enough, and they can collapse on top of you.

Understanding the risks involved, here is how you build a snow cave shelter:

  •   First, you need to locate a snowdrift or a bank, then burrow a tunnel right through to the bottom.
  •   Once you have managed to tunnel in, which shouldn’t be very difficult but undoubtedly time-consuming, you need to create a dome along with a sleeping shelf, ideally in the highest part of the shelter.
  •   Start by digging a six-inch-wide hole in the roof for ventilation. If you aren’t getting enough air, you may suffocate. If you’re going to block the entrance, there should be additional ventilation.

We can’t stress this enough, but this is the most dangerous shelter and will only work in areas where there is deep snow without any pile of vegetation. You will also want to place markers on top to warn people who may be coming that you and others are taking refuge to avoid a cave-in.

The Leaning Shelter

Yes, we saved the most simple to build a natural shelter for last. If you need shelter for a night or rest for a while, this is the best. You can build a quick shelter without tools by using natural resources. However, the reason for this is that you can’t use this shelter in extreme weather. It’s only going to work if the weather is overall pleasant and you need a place to spend the night.

Building the shelter is, as stated above, is easy. You find a ledge, a large rock, or a fallen tree. You then try collecting a few limbs, branches, etc., to lean them against the top edge, forming the frame.

Finally, it would be best if you covered the frame. You can use a tarp (ideal), bark, or brush. You can make it as big as you want. Building this shelter requires fewer materials and should keep you warm with moderately cool temperatures. However, it is not the ideal choice if it’s below freezing.

Should Survivor Always Carry a Tarp

Why should you always carry a trap? Because almost every type of survival needs a trap. So this is very crucial even though it is impossible to predict the future and you also can’t carry an entire campsite on your back, we firmly believe that you should always have a tarp. Always having a tarp on hand means that it should be easy to get instant access when you need it because trust us when we tell you that it is required!

A tarp is a literal lifesaver and most people rarely ever realize it until they need it. It is an emergency survival tool that can save your life regardless of how cold it gets. If there are two other items you should carry, we suggest that you add a bivy sack and a paracord to the list.

A paracord will come in handy for zillions of things also; they can also be braided into a wristband that says to the world that you’re outdoorsy. You can simply take it off and use it when the time comes. Bivy sacks are available in various types, with loads of features, though even the basic model makes a big difference. They cost only a few dollars and weigh 4 ounces, but they fit in the palm of your hands. Plus, you will want to have a multitool for all the cutting and sawing that may be needed to build the shelter.

Now that we know of the bare essentials you should be carrying around, we’ll go into the exact types of shelters that can save your life. Yes, they are surprisingly simple to build, but don’t let that fool you.

Final verdict

We believe you learn different methods of how to build your favorite survival shelter to save your life. We often tell people that regardless of the type of shelter they build, it is essential to be aware of the potential hazards. You will want to look out for dangers like compromised trees and loose rocks. Also, there might be dangerous wildlife. You will also want to choose a place where there is a supply of drinking water or potable water nearby and where finding building materials is accessible; in other words, you don’t have to go too far away to get what you need.

Heated shelters are by far the ones of choice for many. The security and warmth offered by a heated shelter and the practical nature of construction far outweigh the inconvenience of gathering firewood.

Insulated shelters are best used for pleasant conditions or areas where it’s easier to find natural materials like grass and pine needles or if you can’t sustain a fire like in a storm. We like to believe that building a survival shelter is a highly engaging exercise and can make for some outdoor fun. However, you need to have some patience and practice, which is necessary to create the best conditions for survival. If anything, practicing can save your life. Knowing how to build a shelter is better than not knowing, which is why we emphasize that anyone who loves spending time outdoors learns and practices building a few of the shelters we outlined above.