How to Build a Shelter

Learn about the shelters you can build in a time of need. There are shelters you can purchase such as tents and hammocks, but also many types of shelters you can build.

| May 2018

  • hammock
    You can find water-resistant hammocks but if need be you can put a tarp over your hammock.
    Photo by GettyImage/sshepard
  • emergency-preppedness
    “Dr. Prepper” by Jeff Garrett, is filled with tips and tricks to help readers prepare for disasters.
    Courtesy of Skyhorse Publishing

  • hammock
  • emergency-preppedness

Dr. Prepper (Skyhorse Publishing, 2016) by Jeff Garrett, will teach readers how to be prepare for and handle disasters. From first aid kits to distinguishing poisonous plants, this book has it all. Learn about the tools you need in order to be ready. Find this excerpt in Chapter 2, “How to Lay the Groundwork.”

Shelter can mean a lot of different things to different people. Depending on the severity of your survival situation—short-term where you only have to stay warm for a night, or something more long-term—there are several different ways to build reliable shelter that will keep you warm, dry, and able to get going the next day. Whatever your situation may be, the first and most important step in seeking shelter is to analyze your surroundings. Particularly in cases of extreme cold or heat, building shelter and finding water are crucial to ensuring your safety or the safety of your loved ones. Find or set up your shelter in areas near fresh water, but not so close that you are sharing space with water-hovering insects like mosquitos or are in danger of flooding. Take into account that dry riverbeds or trails can be perfect paths for flash flooding if severe weather hits, so 20 even this poses a risk. If you are in the woods or near a cliffside, stay clear of dead trees or loose rocks, as these pose a real risk of falling and harming you and your shelter.

When choosing the kind of shelter you plan to build, take account of the environment around you, how long you will be there, and any potential changes in weather. Do you need to build a fire inside the shelter because it is too cold, windy, or rainy outside? In that case, you would need a structure that vents the smoke while also insulating the heat. When setting up a space inside your shelter for sleeping, make sure to put protective space between you and the ground. Especially during frigid weather, the cold ground can absorb body heat and make it harder to stay warm as the night progresses. Place dry brush like leaves, sticks, and evergreen boughs to form a six-inch-thick layer over the area you will use for sleeping and cover it with a tarp, blanket, or sleeping bag if you have them available. Ideal camping sites are on a slight downward incline so that rain will not pool around you. In cases where extreme weather may cause flooding in your shelter, dig a trench around the area for easier drainage. In the opposite situation of desert heat, it is a good idea to set up your shelter out of direct sunlight; remain wary of how much sun the shelter is getting during the day, as temperatures can increase so intensely that your new home is now an oven. Since it is unlikely that you will happen across a fully stocked log cabin for your convenience in a survival scenario, this list of shelters will help you get by—whether you just need to camp out for a few hours, or build some-thing a little longer term.

Tents and Hammocks

While this section will go into more depth about do-it-yourself shelters, it is worth noting that camping tents and hammocks are well worth the purchase if you can afford them. While large four-person tents can be difficult to carry if you have to stay on the move, they will make your life a lot easier if you don’t have to go too far and are experiencing wind and cold. Many tents have vestibule compatibility, which can be helpful in keeping out rain, drying clothes, and protecting your belongings that would not otherwise fit in the tent. When carrying a large tent is just too much, try tenting hammocks. Hammocks made from parachute material are water-resistant and easy to string up between trees, and a simple tarp hung above the hammock can protect you from the elements. If you can splurge, some hammocks are designed specifically as suspension tents.

Tarps, Parachutes, and Plastic Sheeting

In any survival scenario, having tarp, poncho, or parachute material with you can be a lifesaver. It can protect you from wind, cold, and extreme heat, while also blocking out pests, insects, snakes, and other potential nuisances or hazards. In situations when you cannot build a closed-in shelter and there will be open air, just make sure to position the material so that it blocks the direction of the wind, sun, or precipitation.

Securing a Tarp or Plastic Shelter

Regardless of the shelter you are setting up with this material, you should be mindful of how you secure it to the ground so that it can last for many uses, if not indefinitely. If you are using basic plastic sheeting or a tarp without grommets (the metal rings that allow you to feed rope through them), you should avoid securing the base of your shelter with stakes or any other method that will tear holes in the material. This will compromise the shelter and cause leaks. Instead, place rocks, bags of sand, logs, or any other heavy objects along the base of the material to keep out the elements.

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