Bare Handed Emergency Shelters

Learn how to build emergency shelters out of the materials nature has provided you and keep yourself alive if you find yourself lost and in a crisis.

| February 2020

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A typical desert home of the Navajo Indians, Navajo reservation, Arizona, circa 1900. This is probably a temporary shelter for when herding sheep or similar activity. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

“Emergency” implies you need shelter quickly and you don’t have much with which to work. Even burrowing into the snow greatly increases your odds of survival; digging a cave in a snow bank is even better. Get out of the wind. If you’re in the woods and darkness is upon you, even a deer bed of moss, leaves, ferns, grasses, or evergreen boughs into which you can crawl will go a long way toward keeping you from dying of hypothermia before daylight. Even if you are wet, keeping the wind off may by itself save you from hypothermia. Ignore stickers and bugs; they come with the territory. If you have an hour or so of daylight to prepare shelter in the woods, you may even have time to get comfortable.

Building quick shelters is not rocket science. It is intuitive but does take common sense. Native Americans and aboriginal people everywhere survived, and often thrived, because of their wealth of common sense, and backbone. People in any situation, if blessed with these same qualities, can do the same.

Trenches & hides: Digging in but not very deep

Being on your own in the wilderness – cold, wet, and hungry – is not a good situation, but it is one you can largely control. What’s for dinner has been addressed in other books (including my two, Eating on the Run and Surviving on Edible Insects), so in this context we’ll just not that battling hypothermia takes a lot of calories. Thus, I’ll address shelter first.



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Step 1- Digging the hole.

Even a deer likes a comfortable bed, and depending on your situation, a shallow depression or trench not much bigger than shoulder-width will suffice for overnight. Depending on whether you are in the snow, woods, or desert sand, dig down just deep enough that you can roll over, as wide as you are, with an additional shallow depression for your buttocks and shoulders. Line it with 6 inches or so of grass, leaves, ferns, or evergreen boughs as dry as you can find. More is better.





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