Build a Wilderness Shelter

In the first of a series, a Native American wilderness survival expert describes how to build a warm, secure, and dry wilderness shelter.

| September/October 1981

When you're out collecting firewood, foraging for wild edibles, or plowing your fields, you can never be sure that you won't suddenly be faced with a situation in which your survival depends upon your ability to make a shelter, find food and water, and build a fire. In fact, even if you're 'safely" ensconced in the security of a cabin, a farmhouse, or a city apartment, any number of natural or man-made disasters can force you to keep yourself alive by using only what is available in nature.  

However, any person who knows how to provide his or her necessities, without having to depend on manufactured commodities, can endure even if a calamity severs all ties with the rest of society. And wilderness living abilities are particularly important assets for the alternative lifestylist, camper, sportsperson, or other nature enthusiast who enjoys spending time away from the trappings of civilization.  

But good survival skills include more than the ability to live through a disaster. They can also approach a pure art form, and help men and women enter into a deeper kinship with all of creation. Consider how rewarding it would be to be able to build a wilderness shelter from natural materials make your own fire gather, prepare, and preserve wild edible plants for their nutritive and medicinal value find water where there seems to be none stalk, hunt, and kill game with a bow and arrow made by your own hands from the materials around you, then to use every part of that animal, from the hoofs and hide to the bones and meat short, to be able to eliminate your dependence upon civilization and purchased goods and do without even such basic items as matches, candles, and rope!  

Unfortunately, a lot of people avoid learning these skills because most survival schools in this country teach that staying alive in the wilds is a desperate struggle, that the survivalist must always strive to overcome the threats posed by nature. Indeed, the whole wilderness survival concept has acquired a macho image!  

I believe—and teach—just the opposite. A person trying to live in the out-of-doors should experience no need to fight, feel no pain, and endure no hard work. Indeed, whenever humans try to conquer the pure and natural, they are always defeated ...and sometimes killed.  

I have a friend who once, as part of a "learning experience", marched across plains and mountains—equipped with little more than a blanket, a knife, and a bag of flour averaging 20 to 30 miles a day and pushing himself almost beyond the limits of his personal endurance. The man suffered plenty of cramps and blisters in the course of doing so, yet he gained almost no real survival skills.  

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