How to Build a Survival Shelter (6 Super Simple Tents)

Imagine you are going for a trek or a hike and you forget the route you took and your phone died, or you went camping with your friends and the weather takes a turn for the worse. The night is approaching fast. Now, what will you do?

The four basic requirements to build a survival shelter in the wild in this type of emergency are:

  • Shelter
  • Fire
  • Water
  • Food

Now, you can survive without water for 2-3 days depending on exertion and multiple weeks without food. But you cannot survive a night in the wild without shelter in a harsh environment.

There is a debate in the survival expert community about which is more critical, shelter, or fire. But it depends on the situation. If you are all wet accidentally with water in a glacial environment, fire comes first; otherwise, shelter is the priority.

In the wild, the weather is the most unpredictable factor, which decides whether you live or die.

So in this post, we’re going to show you how to build a survival shelter in the wilderness quickly in any situation you might face in the wild…

Prevention Is Better Than Cure

Emergencies arrive almost unannounced. Therefore, preparedness is the key.

You need to be prepared for almost anything, and for that, there are a few things which you need to invest in, like:

It’s good to keep these things in your car’s trunk, or a small bag which you can carry everywhere with you.

These things will keep you prepared for any emergency.

But, What If You Are Unprepared?

There is a first for everything.

Not every time you will be prepared … but don’t feel helpless.

We will help you tackle these situations even when you are unprepared and have none of the things mentioned above, viz a tarp, paracord, knife, lighter, and a first aid kit.

You can learn how to make a paracord/cordage from a tree’s bark from this video:

Things To Know Before Making Survival Shelters

Before you start to make your shelter, here are a few things you should know…

Never make your shelter:

  • On a slope — as if it rains, the rainwater will flood your shelter.
  • On a mountaintop or open ridge, thus avoiding chilly winds.
  • In a valley, where cold wind settles at night.
  • Areas that can flood with water if a heavy downpour occurs.

Follow these tips to find an excellent place to build a shelter:

  • Find a dry spot to prevent heat loss from your body.
  • Make your shelter’s wall in the windward direction, i.e., the wind should be blowing into your shelter’s wall.
  • Look for dry leaves to make your bed, as they will keep you safe from bugs and work as an insulator to prevent heat loss.

Now that we have explained the basics of building survival shelters and the tools to carry along every time you go out on a trek or a hike, let’s see how you can start your actual shelter construction.

1. A-Frame Tarp Tent

This is one of the easiest type of shelter to build.

In an A-frame shelter, you can fit two people comfortably. Plus, it takes minimal effort and the least time to build this shelter, and it can protect you from rain as well.

But these tents are usually delicate and are not designed to withstand fast-moving wind.

Now, follow these steps to build an A-frame tarp tent:

Step 1: Find two trees 10-15 ft apart. Tie a paracord between the two trees up to chest or shoulder height to make a ridgeline, and make sure that your paracord is taut.

Step 2: Drape your tarp over the paracord. Good quality tarps have loops at their ends from which you can pass the paracord before attaching your paracord with the second tree.

Step 3: You will now have an A-frame shelter structure, whose sides you can attach to the ground using stakes found in the wild, or you can place rocks on the edges of the tarp to fix it on the ground.

Step 4: Find dry leaves, and stack them up 2-3 inches high to make your bed. This bed will keep you cozy on a cold night.

Note: Before building the shelter, it’s good to make sure that there are no heavy items on the tree that can fall (due to strong winds or heavy rains) and damage the tarp.

Finally, look out for the wind’s direction — to keep the side of your shelter facing the wind, else it will bring unwanted debris and even rain and wind in your shelter.

2. A-Frame Lean-To Shelter

A-Frame Lean-to is a shelter that can be built entirely with natural materials found in the wild. But its downside is that it can only house one person.

You will need some time to build this, but it can handle significant battering when tied using a paracord.

Step 1: Find a tree with a Y-fork design, as shown in the image.

Step 2: Find a wooden log about 5-6 meters long. This log is then laid diagonally in the Y-fork to act as a Ridgepole (shown in the image). You can keep the other end of the log on the ground.

Step 3: Small wooden logs will act as the ribs of the shelter. Use paracord to tie the ribs with the ridgepole to make the shelter sturdier.

Step 4: Now, find some branches, dry leaves, grass, and debris to cover the shelter. This covering will act as an insulating roof and will prevent rainwater from seeping in.

Step 5: Use some more dry leaves, grass, and small branches to act as a bed and stack them up to raise the bed 2-3 inches high.

This shelter can easily be built even on a stump, a boulder, or a cave. You might have to suspend the high end of the ridgepole by tying it with another log kept perpendicularly with the ridgepole.

This shelter will keep you cozy by minimizing the heat loss but can only be used by a single person with a sleeping bag. It cannot withstand harsh weather (strong winds) when built without using a paracord.

Again, the wall of the shelter is to be built facing the wind direction.

3. Lean-To Shelter

Lean-To is a comfortable shelter that you can build quickly … but it requires paracord. This shelter is not very warm but can act as a heat reflector if you build a fire inside or in front of the shelter’s open mouth.

An even easier version can be built by draping a tarp over the central ridge pole (log). But we will focus on a sturdier variant for now.

Step 1: Find two trees about 8-10 ft apart. A dry or fallen tree should be avoided because they can break easily.

Step 2: Tie a log with a Paracord chest-high using the 2 trees as a base, as shown in the image.

Step 3: Now, you can drape a tarp over the main log and fix the other sides of the tarp using either stakes or rocks on the ground. But a sturdier version can be built by using logs laid on the main log (ridgepole) at a 45-degree angle.

Step 4: Now, just like the earlier two shelters, put some branches, dry leaves, and grass over the 45-degree angled logs to insulate the shelter. Using some more dry leaves and grass, make a bed that will keep you warm.

Step 5: Make a fire inside or at the open mouth of the shelter. This heat will be reflected by the shelter wall, creating warmth.

Note: Shelter wall has to be built facing the wind direction else it will act as a wind trap.

4. Quinzhee (Best Survival Shelter for Winter)

What if you are stuck in colder areas, where snowfall is common? How to make the shelter then?

In snowy, windy, and cold weather, preventing body heat from escaping is the single most important thing one should do; else the chances of survival can become very low. Hundreds of deaths from cold temperatures are recorded in the United States every year.

But snow is an excellent insulator, so it prevents heat from escaping the body. Leaving soft snow for 60-90minutes will make it hard. This snow will act as a significant barrier and will prevent chilly winds from entering the shelter.

Now the construction part:

Step 1: Start digging the snow using shovels, and pile the snow up in a big mound.

Step 2: Initially, while digging, the snow will be soft. Leave the snow for 1-1.5 hrs. This will harden the snow.

Step 3: Now comes the hardest part. This will involve digging through the piled up hardened snow to make a tunnel. The tunnel should be big enough for you and your gear to slide in, and no more.

The floor should be kept 3-4 inches higher than the opening. This will help with heat retention inside the shelter.

Start digging from the bottom and move up slowly. One foot thick walls are enough to prevent any collapsing of the walls from inside, so keep an eye on the thickness and don’t hollow the tunnel more than that.

Step 4: You can use pine, brushes, and grass as your bed, which will keep you hot. You can use the dugout snow from the tunnel as a wall at the entrance. Tarp can also be used to cover the entrance as a windshield.

A few downsides of this shelter are:

  • It takes a lot of time and effort to make. It burns a lot of calories, making you extremely tired at the end of construction.
  • It requires tools like shovels to dig through the snow. Digging through hands will increase the time and effort significantly.

5. Snow Cave

While constructing Quinzhee is a time-consuming and tiring process, Snow cave is the easiest and takes the least effort. In snowy, chilly, and windy conditions, body heat is at a premium. Snow caves will take less effort to build, thus preserving body heat and energy.

Step 1: You have to find a location where the wind has deposited the snow.

Step 2: Start digging with a shovel. Your cave should be like an upright bell. Dig from below and move up.

Your objective is to raise the floor 3-5 inches from the shelter entrance. This will act as a funnel for the cold air to keep the warm air inside.

Step 3: Keep some branches and vegetation as an insulator on your bed. This will keep you warm and cozy.

6. Teepee Shelter

A teepee is a relatively easy shelter to build as it can be constructed entirely from natural materials. This shelter has space for you to sit down.

Step 1: Find a tree and rest 3 logs on it, making a tripod-like structure.

Step 2: Add more logs to that structure. The more logs you add, the stronger the shelter becomes. Leave some space that will act as your entrance to the shelter.

Just keep the walls facing the wind.

Step 3: Next, add some branches and vegetation over the tripod-like structure to insulate the shelter. Keep in mind not to put the dry leaves over the shelter since the winds can blow them off.

Step 4: Use the dry Vegetation/grass to make the bed in the shelter in the wilderness.

Due to the shelter’s high vertical height, more people can stay in the shelter, but keeping it warm is a challenge. Fast winds can blow the insulation material off; therefore, it’s best to use green leafy branches.

Conclusion — How to Build a Survival Shelter

There you have it. Some shelter that you can make when stuck in an emergency. After making the shelter, you have to think about the distance you have from the source of drinking water and firewood (fuel for lighting a fire). Your distance between these should be as close to possible to your shelter.

After all, you have to walk all the way to fetch water and firewood, burning a lot of energy.

It’s better to be prepared rather than too caught off guard. These simple shelters will help you be prepared for any eventuality.

Have a Nice and Safe Journey!

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Article by:

Eric Birch

Eric Birch is a survival specialist trained in the U.S. military's Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) program. When he’s not ferociously learning new survival tactics, he enjoys the great outdoors, and/or cheering on one of his favorite sports teams.

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