Tips for Building Survival Shelters that are Perfect for any Situation

No one likes to think about the possibility of being stranded far from civilization; however, it could easily happen to even the best prepared survivalist. Here are tips for building survival shelters that are perfect for any situation should disaster strike, knowing how to build effective survival shelters is essential if you are to endure. Survival shelters aren’t all that difficult to construct-here’s what you need to know in order to build an effective one that is right for whatever terrain you might find yourself in.

Choosing a Location

The ideal location for building your shelter will be a level, elevated surface that provides some protection from wind, falling tree branches, and avalanches. It should also be relatively close to sources of water and fuel if possible. While it’s important to be close to water, you should nonetheless stay at least ten feet away from streams. That way, if they rise suddenly, your shelter won’t be flooded.

If you are fortunate enough to happen upon a cave, it can provide you with adequate protection from the elements. Be sure to check your cave for signs of animal activity to avoid sharing your shelter with snakes or other creatures that might be harmful to you. Never venture so far into a cave that you cannot see the mouth of it; otherwise, you could easily become lost inside it.


The biggest mistake people make when building a survival shelter is making the structure too big. It should ideally be just big enough for you (or a partner) to lie down comfortably. Any bigger than that, and your body heat won’t be able to warm it adequately. If there are several members in your group, plan on building a shelter for every two to three people to avoid making one that is too large.

Building a Wilderness Shelter

You’ll first need to gather some materials to use for the framework of your shelter. Logs and fallen tree branches are ideal for doing this, and can be tied together at the top or propped against a sturdy base such as a large boulder, tree or rock cliff. Once you have the outer framework complete, stack smaller branches on top, followed by a layer of leaves or pine straw.

How thick the outer walls of your shelter are will depend on the conditions. While having some airflow is preferred, allowing wind into your shelter is not. For this reason, you should provide enough covering to keep out high winds without completely blocking all air from coming in or out.

Don’t forget to add a layer of insulating material to the floor of your shelter. This will provide you with some protection from the cold and give you a more comfortable surface on which to sleep.

Snow Caves for Winter Survival

A wilderness shelter is ideal if you are in the forest, but what if you are in a snow-covered area? In that case, a snow cave can provide you with protection from the elements, and is actually quite easy to construct.

When choosing the location for your snow cave, the ideal spot would be on a hill that contains at least two feet of snow. If there are no hilly areas, a flat spot with drifted snow will also work. Avoid any areas where there is a risk of avalanches, such as the lee or windless side of a mountain, particularly if it is covered with fresh snow.

Snow Cave Construction Techniques

Build a pile of snow approximately five to six feet high from which to construct your snow cave. Check to make sure the snow is firm, and walk around on top of it a bit to harden it and make it easier to pack. Allow it to “set” for around twenty minutes or so to increase its stability.

Now you are ready to begin carefully carving out the interior of your snow cave. To avoid coming into direct contact with the snow, lay some evergreen branches on the ground while you are working. You’ll also need to cover the floor of your snow cave with dry insulating material to provide a layer of protection between your body and the cold ground. Cover the outside of your structure with evergreen branches-this will provide you with added insulation and help ensure your structure is clearly visible by anyone who may be looking for you.

Unlike wilderness shelters, snow caves can be made as large as you need them to be. As such, you should make sure your cave is deep enough so that your feet are at least twenty-four to thirty-six inches inside of it when you are lying down. This will help you avoid frostbite when the temperatures drop in the early morning hours. You can also place your backpack in front of the opening to help block the wind.

Desert Shelters

When building a desert shelter, you need to do so as quickly as possible to avoid expending extra energy that could cause you to become dehydrated. Don’t worry about making your shelter too high, but instead leave it just tall enough for you to crawl under.

Use whatever materials you have available to create shade-a poncho, blanket or tarp can all be propped up with driftwood, sticks or even mounds of sand. Use rocks or more sand to hold your structure in place if needed.

Knowing how to build a makeshift shelter can help you survive a number of situations. Survival shelters do not have to be elaborate, as even a simple structure can provide you with enough protection to withstand even the harshest conditions.


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