Survival might require a shelter

If you suddenly found yourself out in the wilderness with nothing to help you but your wits, would you be able to survive? In other words, would you be able to find or build shelter and find water and food? Most people probably wouldn’t last long.

While water is the single most important thing to keep you alive, it’s very possible that a shelter might be something that’s needed first, depending on the weather. In extreme conditions, people can survive for only about three hours without shelter.

Last winter, a senior instructor at the Willow Haven Outdoor School for Survival, Preparedness and Bushcraft filmed some episodes for a TV show he was putting together. The point of the show was to prove to people that if they could survive for three days in the woods, they could then go back to their normal lives and do anything they set their minds to.

One of the keys to survival in the show was to build suitable shelters to protect them from the snow, rain, sleet, wind and bitter cold temperatures in what was one of the coldest winters on record in many parts of the country.

The two main shelters they built were a wigwam-style shelter with a fire out front, and a wiki-up-style shelter with an internal fire ring. Now, group shelters are fine for staying alive, but if you want a little more comfort and warmth built into your shelter, you might want to go the individual route.

For the show, they chose a design called the “Super Shelter” that had been popularized by survival instructor Mors Kochanski. After building a log cabin-style frame of sturdy logs that lifts the “bed” at least 12 inches off the cold, damp ground, they secured the corners with a jam knot lashing. Then they added two or three cross-support beams.

Their instruction was to create a “bed” made of small saplings laid lengthwise on the cross beams. Then design a springy mattress, ideally with fresh, spring pine boughs arranged in a herringbone pattern, or with live branch tips from saplings.

Next, make a dome framework covering one side of the bed and both ends. This half-wigwam structure is made from long, thin and flexible saplings that should be equally spaced. To make them stay in place, either wedge them into the framework of the bed or stick them in the ground at the edge of the framework.

Once those saplings are in place, backside saplings are woven over and under the arches formed by the longer saplings. Use reflective emergency blankets to line the back and top of the dome frame, and then cover the whole structure in clear plastic with “wilderness clips.” Finally, place a limb over the plastic in front to trap the heat inside.


Have you ever been forced to build a shelter in the wilderness? If so, please let me know about your experience.


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