When you're spending any amount of time in the outdoors, Murphy's Law will usually come into effect. If you've not heard of this before, it's a simple concept that states, "anything that can go wrong, will go wrong." Now I'm all for spending time in the wild, and I'm usually dragging my family along on camping and hiking trips all over summer. But if you're not prepared, and the weather turns bad, you're going to be in big trouble, and fast. Finding shelter is one of the core pillars of survival, and today we're going to run you through the right way to build a shelter that will help you make it through a cold rainy night.
Location and Surrounds Choosing the right spot for your shelter requires a little planning, as you want to find an area that's relatively flat, and isn't in a natural depression that will trap the cold, or on a hilltop that will expose you to the wind. You'll need access to building materials for construction, and ensure you look up before you choose a spot to ensure there's no widow makers above your camp. Keep an eye out for any natural hazards like ants or wasp nests, and don't set up camp on a creek bed; as soon as it rains you'll have a foot of water running through your shelter. I also recommend making use of any natural structures in your surrounds to construct your shelter. The trick is to find ways to save time and energy, so you can dedicate this to other tasks, like finding water or hunting food. Make use of a natural ledge or overhang as a windbreak, use existing trees as the main support poles, and if it’s winter a layer of snow once you’ve constructed it makes a fantastic barrier against cold, biting winds.
Size and Structure When you’re building a shelter for survival, the best advice I’ve been given was to make it as small as possible. Not only does a small structure mean you can get it built with fewer materials, it’ll go up much faster and you’ll burn less calories building it. Plus, the less free space there is on the inside the warmer it’ll stay from your body heat. As you build the structure don’t forget safety, so use large sturdy branches for the framework, and lash them securely. The shelter should be able to support at least the weight of a full grown adult, anything less and you’re risking its collapse once the next big storm comes.
Cover and Insulation Keeping protected from the outside elements is fundamental to a good shelter. First, start collecting debris that you can use to insulate yourself from the ground. In wet or very cold conditions you may need to construct a cot as an extra buffer to stop your warmth being leeched away, or to stop any creepy crawlies from feasting on you as you sleep. Everything from pine boughs to green leaves and grass can be used, ensure you pile up at least a foot of debris as insulation. For the rain, a thatched roof is your best option if you’ve not got a tarp or any emergency blankets to use as cover. Building on the framework you’ve built, lash a series of cross-beams across the roof and walls of your structure. Then, depending on the materials available in your area, start threading it in, and tying it securely to the cross beams. Begin working from the ground up, creating an overlapping pattern that sends water rolling off your shelter. I’ve used everything from handfuls of long grass as thatch a roof, as well as ferns, wide leaves, birch bark, and even palm fronds that I split down the middle before weaving the long thin leaves together. The trick is to make your roof as thick as you can, and if you can see sunlight peeking through any cracks it means water will leak through.
Fire and Warmth I love to have a fire burning for heat when I’m out in the wild. In addition to the warmth it gives you; it can help keep any large animals at bay, gives you a means of cooking food and purifying your water, and can be a source of comfort when everything else has turned to chaos. Consider where your fire is going to be placed when you’re building a shelter. Placing it inside will mean you need a chimney to allow the smoke to escape. You’ll also need a plan to tend the fire throughout the night, enough fuel to keep it burning, and a plan to avoid burning your entire shelter down in the process. Placing your fire outside can be safer, and if you do construct a simple windbreak wall to help reflect the warmth into your shelter. If security or your location means a fire is not possible, you’ll have to rely on body heat for warmth. Gather as much debris as possible for insulation, and fill your shelter with it. It will be cramped and uncomfortable, but you’ll quickly get warm and keep hypothermia at bay. When the weather turns bad, and you're facing cold winds, rain and sleet, the average human is going to survive less than a few hours without the right gear and shelter. If you ever find yourself in an unexpected survival situation, knowing the right techniques to follow will give you a leg up against mother-nature, and help you survive whatever she decides to throw at you.