How to Build a Basic Survival Shelter


When we take it down to the very basics of life people just need a few different things to survive, food, water, warmth, and shelter. Shelter is surprisingly not the most important when compared to water and food, but it is still important. Humans made it to the top of the food chain not because we were the strongest or the fastest, but because we are the most adaptable. Since this is the case we don’t rely on fur to protect us, we rely on our intelligence to build shelters.

Shelters isolate and protect you from the elements. Things like rain, snow, the sun, and animals are detrimental to our lives. In fact exposure still kills people every year. Even though you may not die, it is detrimental to your health in general. This includes nasty sunburns, hypothermia, and, of course, the ever persistent and ever annoying bug bites.

Shelters can also protect your gear and supplies from the elements, and I’m sure a lot of your supplies are important, and being soaked in water is not exactly ideal for food, matches, lighters, or electronics. If you haven’t figured it out yet, shelters are important.

First of all

The first and possibly most important step is to find a good place to set up camp. First off you want to avoid any place that is considered in a low zone. These zones consist of the bottom of hills, valleys, and any area where water is likely to flow. A shelter can protect you from the rain coming from the sky, but not from the rain coming down the hill.

Next you want to build in an area with shade for the majority of the day, or at least the hottest part of the day. Typically the hottest part of the day is 2 to 3 pm. If you have shade during this time frame you’ll stay a little cooler and avoid the sun.

Preferably this will be nice and flat and rock free, this is for comfort. Now a lot of preppers may declare that comfort isn’t a big deal. However, the more comfortable you are the more you sleep, and the more you sleep the more alert you can be, and the better your body survives.

Also pay attention to the area around you. Have you spotted bear droppings? Probably not a good area to set up camp. There is also the danger of things like coyotes, snakes, and the worst of all pests, fire ants. I’ve set up on ants twice in my military career and it was an absolutely terrible decision. So keep this mind when you are choosing an area to set up.


So we have a nice, safe area to set up a shelter. Now we need to start building our shelter. There are several different options when it comes to shelter construction. Some are remarkably simple and easy to build, other more permanent structures take considerably more time to build. Simple shelters are often enough, and can be used in short-term situations.

The Tarp Tent

I’ve long been a proponent of carrying a tarp inside your bug out bag. A tarp is simple, light, and can keep you nice and dry. The Tarp tent is very simple and quick to make, requiring very little effort and time. Of course you’ll need a tarp, but you’ll also need to find a nice and strong branch that is roughly the same length of the tarp, and some para cord, aka 550 cord. The last ingredient is a good tree or a large rock, something high enough for you to rest the stick on.

The stick should be at an angle, with the portion of the branch leaning against the tree being the highest point and the other descending and resting on the ground. Once it’s set, place the tarp over the sick and use the tie downs to stretch the tarp and keep it upright. You can tie the 550 cord to a tree, secure it with rocks, or use sharpened sticks as stakes. Once the tarp is secure, simply set your bed up underneath.

An A Frame

Building an A frame is a simple, but durable, shelter that can be made out of things you find in a natural environment. You’ll need a few thick branches for this shelter. These branches need to be nice and strong. The first one will be your ridge pole, this pole runs across the top of your shelter. This pole needs to be at least as tall as you, plus a foot for good measure.

Next you’ll need roughly 12 to 18 thick, strong branches, three to four feet in length. These branches can be taller if you’re claustrophobic. They will make up the actual frame. The best branches are those that are fork-shaped, but it’s not always necessary. I prefer to use a tree to rest the ridgepole on, especially if I can’t find forked sticks. Once the ridge pole is in place, start leaning the sticks across the ridge pole forming a skeletonized frame.  It will resemble a kind of spine with ribs.

Now you’ll want to collect small branches, and small limbs, as well as brush and large leaves. Reinforce the frame with small thin sticks as much as possible. Then, using anything from brush to leaves, start placing the materials over the skeleton. Pile up as much as possible, starting with the larger materials and as they fill in the area over the shelter you can add smaller leaves. Personally I prefer using palmetto leaves, but this isn’t an option for everyone. The more leaves you add the more insulated the shelter will be and provide more protection from the elements.

Dry + Warm = Happy Life

Building shelters is something you should be well versed before a disaster. I suggest practicing and learning the ins and outs, plus your own requirements. Maybe you are more claustrophobic than you thought; better to know that now than later. Building shelters is a fun learning experience, and everything important is worth practicing.


About Author

Travis Pike is a veteran Infantry Marine and a lifelong firearms enthusiast. He lives deep in the woods of North Florida, where he can shoot at his leisure. He has been hunting since he was 8 and has always enjoyed the outdoors. Travis is an NRA certified instructor and loves teaching others anything and everything about firearms. He splits time between writing, running a training course, and of course a 9 to 5 job. He is a vocal gun rights activist. When he’s not writing, shooting, or working he is often found sipping craft beer on his porch

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