8 Type of Survival Shelter to Build

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8 Type of Survival Shelter to Build

The type of survival shelter depends on the exposure you are seeking to protect yourself from. Different environments require unique survival solutions. But usually you are trying to protect yourself from rain and wind.

Survival shelters are usually short term. You build them to make life bearable as you enjoy the outdoors.

You may need to know how to build a survival shelter due to an emergency, for instance, a vehicle breakdown in the desert. In such a situation, designing a proper survival shelter may be a matter of life or death. Survival shelters offer welcome relief from adverse weather conditions.

You can also connect with nature. Most of the building materials of survival shelters are sourced from the environment that you are residing.

Why Build a Survival Shelter

Survival shelters are for those who love outdoor activities but loath the feeling of exposure. Your chances of survival depend on how best you adapt to the environment. You should know how to guard yourself against extreme cold weather, rain and wind, and dangerous wild animals.

Possible scenarios that you may need to build survival shelters include bugging out, losing, hiking, and exploring. If you do not know how to make shelter in the wilderness, your survival chances diminish.

Choosing the location of your survival shelter depends on the duration you intend to use it. It is either short or long-term. When deciding as to where to locate your survival shelter, be as creative as possible. Exploit whatever resources at your disposal. You can take advantage of the landscape and the trees around you.

Tree trunks can be used for framework or support, while the leaves would make excellent insulating and roofing materials in desert situations where there are no trees, use the slope of the land for protection. In frozen situations, consider the use of ice blocks to make an Eskimo-type temporary hut. Ultimately, the type of survival shelter is determined by your need and the resources at hand.

Discussed below are some of the types of survival shelters and how to make each shelter in the wilderness.

Best Wilderness Survival Shelters

Simple Frame and Tarp Shelter

A simple frame and tarp is a basic shelter, which takes less than one hour to erect. To make the shelter, you need a tarp or poncho, three to four long straight tree branches, a multitool or survival knife, and a cord. Cords may be improvised from tree barks. The size of the tarp determines the size of your survival shelter.

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To make this shelter frame, you need to lean poles against a tree trunk, ensuring that it will fit under the tarp. Take caution by ensuring that there are no sharp edges from the wood to avoid puncturing the tarp. In case they are there, cover them up by wrapping leaves around them. Tie your cords or improvised cords made from tree barks at an angle so that you hold your tarp in place. To maintain the tarp to the ground, place the rocks on the tarp where it touches the ground.

You have an option of not using the frames if you can secure the corners of your tarp to four trees. Alternatively, you could wrap yourself in a tarp and identify a place where you can shelter. Tarp shelter is one the most basic wilderness survival shelter. If you want to learn how to build a survival shelter, this is a good place to start.

A tarp can be configured on a need basis, depending on the elements you want to protect yourself. In case you want to protect yourself or a fire from rain or the scorching sun, you may adopt the frameless version of a tarp. This design, however, cannot protect you from winds, in which case the framed tarp would be most suitable.

It would help if you considered the wind direction before setting up your tarp survival shelter. You will be sure that you are safe from the wind blowing off your tarp shelter. Rain will also not be pushed into the survival shelter.

You should note that tarps are not made the same. Cheap ones rip. When exposed to UV light, they deteriorate with time and don’t last. To avoid disappointment when you need comfort most in a survival situation, avoid buying a cheap tarp.

Lean To

The lean to shelter is also called an open shelter, has more space, and can hold more people. A standard one can accommodate between one and four people. It takes three to five hours to set an open shelter. You require a long tree branch to use as the horizontal beam, ten components for the grid, cords, leaves, or grass for the roof, and a knife for cutting the wood.

To begin the setup, lean six poles against the top horizontal tree branch referred to as ridgepole. The angle of inclination of the sticks against the ridgepole should be between 45 and 60 degrees. The variance in the angle determines the size of your shelter.

The shelter should be big enough to accommodate you and your companions. The bigger the shelter, the more difficult it is to keep it warm. Locate your shelter in the driest ground possible. Insulate the floor with dry debris such as dry leaves. Your body will not be in contact with the ground. You cannot afford to lose heat through ground transfer.

To make a grid frame, tie five to six poles onto the frame. The next step involves thatching the roof using either the tree backs, leaves, or grass. This procedure should start from the bottom, moving upwards. You can put additional layers of the roof if you so wish. In case you a tarp, you can use it as a curtain to cover the entrance.

The lean to shelter is a wilderness survival shelter that exclusively uses available resources as provided by nature.

Snow Cave

This snow shelter is fast to build in emergencies and will keep you warm to boot. It involves digging a hole in the snow and slipping in. Though snow is cold, it will not let heat escape from your body because it has insulating properties. The spot is warm.

When done well, the snow cave’s air temperature rises due to your body heat. You are kept warm by the trapped heat and are safe from hypothermia. Snow cave protects you from the extreme wind too.

So how do you make a snow cave? To make a snow cave, you need a shovel, a saw, sticks, and tree branches.

Constructing a snow cave starts with identifying a nice drift. A nice drift is ideal for a snow cave to ensure that the snow is tightly packed. Fluffy snow will not work. The chances are that if you build in it, your cave may collapse. This would catastrophic for the occupant.

You are supposed to build your cave on the leeward side of the drift. You need to understand the side that the wind is blowing. Build your shelter away from the oncoming wind so that it does blow into the cave. Using a saw, cut about ten pieces of snow into blocks, each about 16 inches, and ensure they are square. You will use these to build the front door.

Using a shovel, excavate into the drift, like you are drilling a hole on the side of a hill. While inside, make a raised sleeping area. Using a stick, create an air hole at the highest point in the ceiling. The air hole’s essence is to let in air and ensure that heat does not accumulate at the top and cause the cave to melt.

The blocks should be stack on the bench sides up to the ceiling. Your snow cave is ready for occupation and now you are truly prepared for cold weather survival.

P.S. Do not start a fire in the cave as this would raise the temperature and cause melting!

Spider Shelter

The spider shelter is easy and fast to build. Anyone can create a spider shelter, you only need a little guidance, and you are good to go.

The first step involves assembling as many small and large branches as possible. Make a skeleton that looks like a cone. The idea is to compact the sticks as much as possible. The more sticks you use, the more heat you will be able to hold in the shelter. Spider shelter is one of the wilderness survival shelters that use natural materials to build.

Collect dry leaves or debris found on the forest floor and evenly spread on the compacted sticks. You can add as many layers of leaves as you may wish.

Spider shelter is one of the few wilderness survival shelters that will comfort you both in summer and winter. It is quick and easy to build, which is perfect for a true survival situation.

A-Frame Shelter

The A frame shelter will ensure that you remain warm and dry. It is easy to build as you do not require any tools. You don’t need even a pocket knife. But it helps if there are trees nearby.

Like any other wilderness survival structure, you need to identify a suitable location to set up your shelter. Get a place with good drainage in case it rains. Ensure the ground is dry. Allocate yourself enough time to gather and assemble the materials you need.

To build an A-frame shelter, you need a ridgepole (horizontal stick at the top) and two arms for the entrance. Find branches that are strong enough to support the weight of your shelter. With the needed materials on-site, the next step is to measure the desired size of the shelter.

Remember that it should be long enough to cover your whole body length. Lie on the ground and mark your length so that you fit in your shelter. Provide enough space because the smaller the shelter, the better in terms of body heat retention. It is a worthy trade-off with maneuverability. Get a balance that best suits you.

You could preferably get branches that fork at the top to use as arms to place the ridge pole. It will eliminate the need for tying. The next step is to add ribs to the A-frame skeleton. The branches must be strong enough to support the walls. You can consider close spacing so that the walls are compact.

Filling in involves adding more sticks, bushes, and twigs to spaces between the ribs. You don’t have to worry about the cave in as long as your ribs are strong enough.

The next step is to thatch your shelter to make it resistant to elements such as rain, snow, and wind. You can use dry grass, leaves, pine boughs, moss, or anything that is water-resistant. Thatching will offer you protection from the elements and provide insulation by trapping body heat in the shelter.

Finish up building this survival shelter by a quick clean-up of the interior. You can use an improvised broom to clean the flow to rid of unwanted debris. Clip off branches and twigs that may be sticking out from the wall.

A-frame will offer the following advantages compared to other shelters.

• It is easy to set up.

• Resistant to rain and wind.

• Can hold heat moderately because it protects from two sides.

• It is more spacious compared to lean-on due to its structure.

However, the A frame shelter will take you double the time you take to set up a lean-on. It may expose you to extreme conditions.


To build an igloo, you need the denser snow below. The fluffy stuff on the surface is not ideal.

You start making an igloo by drawing a circle on the snow where you want to build. Fix a peg at the center of your selected location. Tie a cord on the peg. The length of the cord should be equal to half the diameter of the igloo. On the other end of the cordage, tie a stick. Go round the fixed peg marking on the snow to make a circle. The diameter of your igloo should not be more than 10 feet if you’re a beginner. You will have difficulties making the dome.

Using a form, mold your bricks. The form should have dimensions of 3 feet long, 8 inches, and 15 inches high. Smaller blocks are preferable for smaller igloo. Snow becomes denser when touched. It becomes better to work. You start harvesting your blocks from the inside of the circle before moving out.

Make a small incline as you go up. You can now stack the blocks on top of each other continuously in a circular manner, layer by layer. Each layer will slightly incline inwards. You will gradually get the shape of a cone as the layers go higher. Use snow in joints between the blocks.

Slant the edges of the blocks to make them join well and minimize the risk of collapsing. You can choose to have your ventilation on top or into the side.

You have the option of making a doorway by digging a tunnel out of the igloo or cutting it out the wall. To strengthen the igloo, you can freeze a layer of water on the roof of your igloo.

Wicki Up (Teepee)

The wicki-up, or teepee, is a great shelter for a number of reasons. It was a popular type of shelter for North American Indians, and it means “dwelling house”.

One of the key benefits of the wickiup is that you can burn a fire inside without issue. Of course you need to ensure your wickiup is big enough. Not only that, but it protects well from wind and rain.

To start, you want to gather 3 large pieces of wood that are 12-15 ft long. You’ll want a good bushcraft knife or axe for this. You’ll then lay the wood on the floor and tie them up about 2 or 3 feet down from the edge.

Next step is to life the pieces of wood and shape them as a tripod. Make sure the wickiup is stable, and you may need to reinforce the structure with more pieces of wood.

After completing the frame, you want to insulate your wickup. The most popular options are animal skin or moss.

Once your wickiup is complete, start your small fire and enjoy yourself.

Dug Out Survival Shelter

The dug out survival shelter is also known as a pit-house. The shelter is made by digging a hole or depression into the ground. A flat room is then put on the top. It is believed that the dug-out shelter design represents the ancient type of human housing.

Dug out survival shelter will protect you from wild animals and other elements such as wind, extreme cold, and heat. This type of shelter is adaptable to fit various situations. Its wide use as a survival shelter springs from the fact the ground is universal.

The first step of how to make shelter in the wilderness is to scout for the perfect spot. Make sure the identified place is compact. Sandy soils are loose and tend to break and fall apart. Get a place where the soil is firm and holds together. Avoid areas around water bodies. Water may sip into your shelter, or the walls would be cold.

Search for materials like a shovel that you may need to break the ground. Collect debris for the roof of the shelter.

Next, start the actual digging, do a furrow of about 10 feet deep or to the desired depth to fit you. While you dig, remember to do slope as a provision for your entrance and exit.

Bedding can be improvised by littering the floor of the dug-out shelter with dry debris or leaves. It will act as your bed and also help in keeping you warm.

To make the roof put logs over the furrow you have made. Generously add leaves to cover the little spaces between the logs.

Tools Needed to Build Survival Shelters

Several tools are needed to build wilderness survival shelters. The tools required vary depending on the type of shelter you want to build. However, it would be best to have very basic tools as the shelters are temporary in nature and simple in nature. Having a shelter-building tool in your survival kit can determine your survival or demise in the wilderness. You may die of hypothermia or heat stroke because you could not build a survival shelter due to a lack of tools.

Discussed below are the top five tools to build a survival shelter:

Folding Shovels

A folding shovel will make your life a lot easier for most of these shelters. A solid folding shovel is strong and lightweight, making it easy to carry around. You can use this tool for shelter building in the snow or dug-out. You will also need a folding shovel to build a snow cave, igloo, and dug-out.

Axe or Survival Hatchet

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These are multifunctional tools that you need for building survival shelters. With an axe and survival hatchet, you can cut ridgepoles for A-frame, drive a peg into the ground while preparing to build an igloo, among other functions.

Survival Knife

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You need a survival knife to cut cords and small branches while building survival shelters. These are basic bushcraft skills that you will hopefully have in your arsenal.

Since you may be doing some batoning, you probably want to go with a sturdier full tang knife. As far as a survival knife for chopping wood, we think there is no better option than the ESEE-6.

Paracord Bracelet

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Paracord is going to be essential for many of the survival shelters you build. A simple paracord bracelet is easy to carry and incredibly useful.


Tarpaulin is not a tool per se. However, a tarp in itself is a shelter that can protect you from the wind and rain.


You now know how easy it is to survive outdoors by building survival shelters. Challenge yourself to test your ability to overcome adverse conditions without having to panic. You realize some seemingly complex situations require simple solutions.

As you learn how to build the shelters we have discussed, please pay attention to details such as how long it takes to assemble materials and the time for your shelter’s actual building. You should be able to select which survival shelter is best suited for a particular environment.

The bottom line is that you shouldn’t limit your mind when building a survival shelter. Be as creative as you can be and use the natural materials around you. Whatever we have discussed are guidelines to building respective survival shelters. You can alter them to serve you better.

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