Camp Tricks

How to Make Your Own Shelter

September 29, 2016
makeshift shelter
makeshift shelter

©istockphoto/Vitalii Kirdan

If you find yourself stuck in the woods with the sun about to go down and no shelter in the form of a tent, you might be forced to make your own. It’s not as daunting as it sounds and the forest provides you with all you’ll need. Before your next hike you might want to practice building these structures so you’ll be covered in case of an emergency.

Step One: Find a Good Spot
A shelter, when possible, should have a sturdy base of support in the form of a healthy, thick tree or boulder upon which to build your structure off of. You’ll want to avoid lower-level areas like ditches, which are prone to flooding should a rain shower occur. The area around your shelter should also be free of large, loose rocks or dead branches that could fall in high winds. If there is nothing to lean your shelter against, consider creating one in the form of a teepee.

Step Two: Gather Wood
To build a solid structure you’re going to need wood, but not just any kind will do. Tiny twigs that’ll snap at the first sign of wind won’t do you much good, for instance. Select thick branches, but not so thick you can’t pick them up or they might crush you under their weight, and collect them in the clearing where you choose to set up camp.

Step Three: Start Stacking
Place your largest sticks against your boulder or fallen tree limb in order to make something resembling a lean-to. Place them as close together as possible, from largest to smallest, so that you have a wide opening where you head will lie while it decreases in size toward your feet. They don’t have to completely next to one another, but try to leave as little space between them as you can without running out.

Step Four: Block Out the Wind
If you’re stuck outside in the winter, the simplest way to provide cover around your shelter is to surround it with tightly packed snow. In the summer, however, it gets a tad more difficult. Start by piling dry leaves on top of your lean-to, then cover them with wet ones to help them stay in place. If you can throw a little mud into the mix it’ll act as an adhesive to keep it all in place. Top that off with more sticks (with mud!) to keep the wind from tearing your shelter apart.

Alternatively, if you remember to pack a tarp you can simply throw that overtop your structure and tie it in place or put heavy rocks on the corners to keep it from moving.

Step Five: Make Your Bed
Last, but not least, you’ll want to make a cushion to sleep on between you and the forest floor. Gather as many dry leaves as you can and pile them in your shelter until you have a leafy mattress at least eight inches thick. It’ll keep you off the cold ground and help trap some heat.

Other Options

The Cocoon: If you’re short on time, collect as many dry leaves and other debris from the forest floor as possible and pile them two or three feet high and longer than your body, the burrow yourself in under the pile. It’ll provide a makeshift barrier against the cold.

Extra Clothes: If you’re without the objects needed to build any kind of shelter at all, rely on what you have in your pack. Bundle yourself up in extra clothes to add layers to your outfit as a way to stave off the cooler temperatures at night. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than doing nothing.

Tarp and Tree: If you were smart enough to bring along a tarp and string, simply tie each end between two trees a few feet above the ground. Throw your tarp overtop and use heavy rocks to pin down both sides to form a makeshift tent you can sleep under.

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