Wilderness Survival Skills: Constructing Advanced Survival Shelters

Tom Brown Jr. shares his wilderness survival skills with MOTHER readers. This issue covers how to construct two advanced survival shelters, including the thatched hut and the mud hut, plan before you build and shelter diagrams.


| September/October 1985



095-068-01e

A thatch "shingle" made from a bundle of long-stemmed grass wrapped together at the root ends with cordage.


PHOTO: TOM BROWN JR.

Back in MOTHER NO. 71, wilderness survival expert Tom Brown Jr. (known worldwide as The Tracker) showed us how to construct the leaf hut-an expedient and reliable short-term survival shelter. In this article, the ninth installment of The Tracker's ongoing wilderness survival series, Tom discusses the basics of building two different long-term survival shelters.

At Home in the Wilderness Part IX: Advanced Survival Shelters

With many hunting seasons opening in the coming months, a lot of individuals—some of whom have had very little wilderness experience—will be taking to the woods. Unfortunately, a few of them will also become lost or be stranded by inclement weather. Should you be faced with such a wilderness survival situation, your first course of action should be the construction of a temporary shelter—such as a leaf or debris hut—that will keep you warm and dry and that can be erected quickly, with a minimum expenditure of energy and natural materials. Only after that basic shelter is up—and your other pressing survival needs (water, fire, and food) have been taken care of—should you consider building a larger, more permanent and comfortable wilderness home.

Of course, if luck is with you, you'll never need to erect and occupy either of the two long-term survival shelters I'm going to talk about in the following paragraphs. But if you ever should find yourself stranded in the wilds for an extended period, knowing how to construct a shelter that will not only keep you warm and dry but also provide ample living and work space could brighten your outlook considerably—and by doing so, increase the likelihood of your surviving until you're rescued.

Neither of these advanced shelters requires any construction tools other than those you can fashion yourself, and no materials other than those provided by nature. Also, once erected, either style of shelter should be habitable for several years if kept up. In fact, if you have access to a privately owned woods (your own or a friend's), you might want to build a "practice" survival hut. It could serve as a storage building or even a primitive hunting camp or blind; it'll cost nothing to erect, will blend in with its natural surroundings, will be relatively easy to construct, and—most important—will provide invaluable hands-on experience that will stand you well should you ever wind up in a true long-term survival fix.

Plan Before you Build Advanced Survival Shelters

No matter what type of shelter you're building, long-term or temporary, locate it on a well-drained, elevated site that's at least 50 yards from any body of water that could rise and flood you out. And while it's beneficial to have your shelter shielded from the elements by such natural windbreaks as large trees and rocks, don't place your survival home so deep in the forest that sunlight can't get through to warm and brighten it. Finally, consider the availability of construction materials and other survival necessities (such as water) before deciding on a building site; hauling materials in from long distances is a waste of time and—more important—precious energy.

Constructing the Thatched Hut Shelter

Thatched huts are commonly used as year-round dwellings in tropical and semitropical climes, and can offer satisfactory shelter for spring, summer, and fall living in temperate zones. If properly constructed, these seemingly fragile structures can withstand high winds and prolonged downpours and will provide excellent protection against the heat of the baking sun.





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