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How to Build a Survival Shelter: 15 Types of Survival Shelters

by Jefferson Ebasan July 14, 2021 12 min read

Millions of TV viewers have been captivated by the concept of becoming a "survivor." A survivor, on the other hand, is far more than a TV fantasy. When living distant from home doesn't go as planned, a survivor is prepared to live—and live as healthily as possible.

Knowing what to prepare for to survive in the outdoors is the first step. You can go weeks without food and days without water. People who do not stay in the wilderness die most commonly from a loss of body heat rather than from malnutrition or thirst. Next, you should be able to light a fire. Perhaps most vital, you must be able to construct a shelter to protect yourself from the elements such as wind, rain, and snow and keep your body heat confined close to your body.

What is the Definition of a Survival Shelter?

Any structure that can shield you from animals, insects, and the elements qualify as a survival shelter. Dugout snow tunnels to A-frame wooden buildings are examples of survival shelters. Shelters come in several shapes and sizes, and they serve a variety of purposes, but one thing is sure: without them, survival is nearly impossible.

Survival Shelters in the Wilderness

If you've ever heard of the rule of threes, you realize how crucial it is to have a reliable shelter. When you're caught in a snowstorm or left in the desert heat with no else to go, the clock starts ticking toward a dangerous situation that could cost you your life.

Rain and dampness are typically your biggest enemies, no matter where you are. It's tough to stay warm while you're soaked. This is just one of the many reasons it's critical to have a waterproof and dry shelter.

Of course, with the few resources you have—and the type of shelter you can find or build—it may not always be possible to stay completely dry, but certain tactics can help:

  • Elevating your bed: If possible, elevate your bed off the ground, regardless of your surroundings. Not only is it necessary to remain dry, but there are also pests to consider.
  • Find rain protection:If you're lucky, you might be able to find natural rain protection. However, if you don't have the natural resources or time to make your shelter, large trees and caves can be lifesavers.

Whatever occurs, try to stay dry as much as possible. It'll be difficult to get dry and regulate your body temperature if you've been soaked to the bone.

The First Steps You Must Take

  1. Select an Appropriate Area
  2. Select a location for your wilderness shelter that is:
  • It must be dry, flat, and not located near a body of water.
  • Is not beneath any cliffs, falling rocks, or dead limbs that could fall on you 
  • Is visible or well hidden 
  • Has a suitable area for a fire

A word about picking a level spot for your shelter: this isn't merely for the sake of convenience! If your shelter is situated on a slope and it begins to rain, rainwater may enter your shelter. If you can't find a level location to build your protection and it's going to rain, you'll have to dig trenches into redirecting the water away from it.

Determine What You Need

Many wilderness survival specialists will advise you that this or that strategy is the most excellent way to be safe in the bush. However, it is entirely dependent on your requirements.

Here are some of the topics to think about:

  • What is the size of your group?
  • Is it necessary for your shelter to be camouflaged?
  • How cold is it outside? Will you need to start a fire inside your shelter or directly in front of it?
  • How long do you have to construct the shelter?
  • Is this a long-term or a temporary shelter?



While not required, having some essential equipment on hand will make building these shelters much easier:

  • A shovel of some sort 
  • A survival knife 
  • A bushcraft ax 
  • A folding saw 
  • A machete

Determine what type of shelter you want to build.

This is the most crucial aspect of constructing a wilderness shelter. You'll be able to make the ideal decision if you know a few shelter designs and what they're best suited for.

15 Types of Survival Shelter You can Choose From

Wedge Tarp 

This tarp shelter works best in windy circumstances with a consistent wind direction. The wedge creates an aerodynamic shape that should withstand even the strongest winds and rain. With at least five tie-down points, the wedge is more secure than other tarps, and it even has two rain-catching corners. To construct the wedge tarp shelter:

  1. Anchor two of the tarp's corners into the wind (not opposing corners).
  2. Attach a line to the other side of the tarp's center.
  3. Finish by tying the last two corners to the ground.
  4. For open wings and better airflow, use more cords and a less steep angle.
  5. For the best weatherproofing, tie the last corners down sharply.

To create deeper basins to catch water, place a few boulders or log chunks under the tarp near the first tie-downs. Thus, this shelter serves as both a residence and a water harvester.

Tarp Wing

If you have a large tarp, this unconventional tarp structure is helpful for rain protection over a broad area; if you have smaller tarps, it can provide coverage to a smaller size. When I give classes, I drape a 20 by 40 tarp in this manner over my campfire area. However, I have camped beneath one that was eight by 10 feet in size. The wing ties opposing corners of a tarp together, two high and two low. It can billow in the wind like a loose sail, yet it works well to keep the sun and rain off.


In hot, sunny weather, a shaded shelter is required. The flat roof of the ramada does not provide leak-proof weather protection, but it does keep the sun from hammering down on you. There are many different types of ramadas, but most are built with four posts, some lightweight beams, and a fitting covering. As a sun barrier, tarps, mats, or even brush will suffice on the ramada's roof. Add some removable walls to block the evening breeze if the temperatures drop, and you've got yourself an extremely adaptable desert shelter.

Round Lodge

The round lodge is a cross-cultural mash-up. This shelter can block rain, cold, wind, and sun. It's half tipi, part wickiup, and numerous architectural styles influence it. It's built in the style of a tipi, but with the addition of a substantial doorway. These usually have a smoke hole in the ceiling and can hold a small fire for warmth and light. This shelter can be covered in grass or matting or buried in a thick layer of leaf litter. In the historic and prehistoric American west, lodge types like this exist. However, this architecture was employed in pre-Roman Britain and worked equally well in wetter conditions.

Snow Cave

In locations with thick snow, a snow cave may be the only alternative for shelter. The inmates may suffer from a lack of air or perhaps be buried alive if the ceiling collapses, making this the most dangerous shelter to construct. The safe performance of the snow caves is dependent on snow selection. Choose a snowbank or drift that is deep and sturdy. Form a tunnel into a low location by digging into the side of it. This is the "cold well," an area where colder air can fall and gather. Then dig a shelf or platform to sleep on by digging up and over it. This should be the shelter's highest point. Finally, dig a small hole in the roof approximately 6 inches in diameter for ventilation, especially if you plan to block the entrance with a rucksack or large snow chunk.


The quinzhee is a snow shelter in a dome shape, similar to an igloo but considerably quicker to build. An igloo requires just the correct amount of snow, whereas the quinzhee may use any precipitation type. Start by piling up some mobile items under a tarp to make one. Backpacks are frequently used for this purpose. After that, lay snow on top of the tarp and gear. Pack the snow down to a thickness of two feet all the way around. After that, place 12 inch long sticks all around the dome. 3 to 4 dozen of these guide sticks are required. Recover the tarp and stuff by burrowing inside the quinzhee's side. Inside the mound, dig snow until you reach the base of each stick. This will ensure that the dome's thickness is consistent. Finally, make a fist-sized ventilation hole in the quinzhee's roof.

Tarp Burrito

The tarp burrito is a low-drag shelter with no frills and a setup time of 30 seconds or less. Set up your tarp in a likely shelter spot. Fold one side of the paper over about a third of the way. Fold in half again in the same direction. This creates a tarp roll with the seam on the bottom. Close one end of the tarp by tucking it under itself and squeezing your sleeping bag into the open end. Except for the door, all of the seams are pinned down by your body weight in this configuration. If it's raining, let it flop down, or prop it open if the weather is nice. Always keep in mind that you get what you pay for. Dew or frost will form within the tortilla due to water vapor created by you at night time, especially if your clothes are damp if no time is spent on ventilation. In all but the driest conditions, this will get your sleeping bag wet.

Tarp Tipi

All you need is a little rope, some poles, and a tarp to make the tipi, which is one of the most versatile and mobile shelters Native Americans have ever used. Large skins were previously used to cover traditional tipis, which were later replaced with canvas. Any huge cloth, such as parachute material, sails, or tarp, will suffice for our needs. There are many tipi-building traditions, but call it as you see it for a simple field shelter. To lock in the first three or four poles, use a rope to bundle a few straight poles together or connect a few forked sticks. Then, in a circle around the primary supports, place additional poles. Pull covering into place and secure it with plenty of ties. Make sure the framework is large enough for the tarp to cover it completely.

Desert Tarp

This "double-roofed" shelter has been used by desert tribes for ages, mainly in northern Africa and the Middle East. Still, it gained broad popularity thanks to military survival training in the previous century. You'll need two tarps and several hundred feet of rope to get started constructing this shelter. First, find or dig a low area in the ground on your own. Place one of your tarps over the quiet spot and place one of your posts in each corner. Tightly tie one tarp to the stakes, then connect the other tarp in place, leaving enough air space between the two tarps. You can alternatively make the two layers by folding over a larger tarp. Next, tie the tops of the four stakes to your four anchors, which can be stakes, rocks, logs, or anything else that can be used as an anchor.

A-Frame Tarp Shelter

When built close to the ground, the A-frame is a tarp design that provides excellent protection from rain and wind. It still includes rain protection when hanging higher, but it enables more excellent ventilation underneath. A-frames rise quickly. Once you've chosen your shelter location, you should be able to turn your tarp in 10 minutes or less, giving you plenty of time to do other survival tasks during the day. To begin, suspend a cordage line between two trees or other suitable supports. Place your tarp on top of the line and secure all four corners. This shelter looks excellent strung up over a springy branch bed or in a tarp hammock. A poncho can also be used as an A-frame tarp shelter.


The lean-to is one of the most basic and commonly used primitive shelters. With a variety of materials, it may be set up in less than an hour. This simple, one-sided construction will provide shelter from the wind and rain that the wilderness may bring.

Between two trees, securely support a tall, robust pole. Poles, brush, or branches can be used to cover one side. Then pile leaves, grasses, palm fronds, or any other available vegetation on top. There are two major faults in this shelter: 1) It does not retain heat efficiently; 2) If the wind or rain direction changes, you will no longer be protected. For example, consider a house with only one wall and a half-roof. It provides little insulation instead of deflecting the wind and reflecting the heat from the nearby fire. On the plus side, it's quick and straightforward to construct.

Leaf Hut

The leaf hut is a two-sided lean-to that is significantly improved weatherproofing and insulation. To make one, choose a long, solid pole that is 9 to 12 feet long. Set it on a rock, two forked prop sticks, a stump, or prop it up in the fork of a tree. Then, to act as ribs, wrap the sides of the pole with tree branches. These run along both sides of the ridge pole at an angle. To prevent your hut covering from falling through, keep the ribs close together. After that, pile plants on top of the framework. It's enough to have two to three feet of vegetation on all sides of the shelter to keep you dry inside. Finally, make a thick pile of foliage for your bedding inside the hut.

In the event of strong winds, a layer of brush, sticks, twigs, or branches should be spread over the entire hut to prevent the vegetation from being stripped away by the wind.


The wickiup, which is composed of poles, brush, and plants, resembles a miniature tipi. This shelter can be found all throughout the world, although it has been reported most commonly in the American Southwest. This shelter can be made suited for climates with periodic rain by using a thicker brush, grass, and leaf coverings, as well as a steeper roof. A larger, squattier building covered with a light brush can provide a shady, ventilated shelter for hot, dry areas.

Collect several poles, some of which have forks at the top. Combine a few of these forks to make a freestanding tripod. Then arrange the remaining poles to form the tipi frame. Finish up with a layer of plants. It may be safe to chance to ignite a small fire inside of the wickiup is large enough, and the plant covering the roof is a damp or green material.

Bough Bed

This isn't a shelter in and of itself, but it's a fantastic complement to any other shelter. Evergreen boughs, leaves, grass, or other plant material can create a bough bed. Many regions have cedar and pine boughs, but fir boughs provide the most luxurious bed. Roll two logs side by side and about 3 feet apart for the bed frame. Ensure that they are taller than you are. Several at a time lay down the boughs to fill the vacuum between the logs. If you have any dead, dried leaves or grasses, they might be an excellent addition. You'll have to stick with the boughs if it's snowing. When lying down, make the mattress thick enough that you are at least 6 inches from the frozen ground or snow surface. If the mattress isn't warm enough, keep adding armloads of boughs or other plants.

Tarp Hammock

This is a simple technique to improvising a hammock in rainy or bug-infested settings to get off the ground. Use an 810 tarp and 14-inch braided nylon rope for this project. Begin by rolling up one of the long sides of the tarp halfway across the entire tarp. Then wrap up the long opposite side to meet the first, creating a 10-foot long, two-roll bundle. Now securely knot a sheet bend to each end of the tarp, leaving about 15 feet of rope on each end to tie to your trees. Choose trees approximately 10 feet apart that are leg-thick or thicker, and fasten the end of each string to a tree as high as you can reach. Wrap twice around the tree for a stronghold on the bark, then apply two half hitches with an extra trap for extra security. Tie high up in the trees to compensate for the hammock settling as the knots tighten. To make a roof, tie up another tarp as an "A" frame between the two trees from which the hammock swings.

If you're camping in a bug-infested area, tie a little piece of fabric to each of your hammock lines and dip it with mosquito repellant. This should prevent some bugs from walking down the line and entering your hammock. Next, soak the rags in kerosene to repel snakes and insects, but keep any open fires away from the fuel-soaked material.

How to keep a Survival Shelter Warm without Lighting a Fire Inside


Nothing like a roaring fire for generating heat in the woods. That's why our forefathers built fireplaces in their log houses, and our more distant forefathers lit fires wherever they lived. And, since having a fire in a primitive hut built of twigs and dried vegetation (or, for that matter, a cave) isn't a good idea, it's good to know about other ways to keep your living and sleeping quarters warm. For example, you can enjoy the warmth of a fire without putting yourself or your shelter in danger by creating a hot rock heating pit in the dirt bottom of your shelter. Here's how to do it.

Begin by creating a tiny trench in the shelter's floor, somewhat more significant than the bowling ball-sized rock you'll be using to transfer heat. Find a flat rock to cover the pit and dig the hole to match the size and form of the stone. Make sure you collect your two rocks from somewhere dry.

Before you heat the stone, make sure everything fits together well because juggling a 1,200-degree rock isn't fun. You could even recess the pit's surrounding hole so that the flat rock is flush with the dirt bottom (not a tripping hazard). When you're ready to utilize your setup, heat the pit stone (but not the lid stone) in a fire for approximately an hour, then transport it to the pit (a shovel works well) and drop it in. Seal the pit with the flat stone lid, relax, and enjoy the radiant heat for several hours.

If you want to keep the heat going, have another rock on hand similar in shape and size to the first rock. When the first rock cools down, the second rock can be switched in to keep the heat going. This approach works best with red hot rock and parched dirt. Then, drag the near-molten stone toward the waiting pit, clearing all flammables out of the path!

Jefferson Ebasan
Jefferson Ebasan

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