In a real world survival situation, it will be imperative to find a suitable shelter. When a natural shelter cannot be found, it will be necessary to build one out of natural or manmade materials. The shelter does not have to look pretty; it just has to be functional. A functional shelter is one that will keep you warm and dry by keeping you out of the cold and blocking the wind. A shelter should also provide a level of protection against predatory animals, even if that level of protection is minimal. When it comes to shelter, people situated in warm dry climates often assume that they will require less in the form of shelter, or that a shelter is altogether unnecessary. This could not be further from the truth. Warm dry climates, such as a desert, are only warm and dry during the day when the sun is out and in full force. Those same environments lose an abundance of heat as the sun sets, and temperatures in these regions can become frigidly cold as night descends across the land.

In a survival situation there are basically two categories that shelters will fall under; temporary and permanent. A temporary shelter can be built anywhere.

Temporary Shelter

The primary purpose of a temporary shelter is to provide an environment capable of keeping you warm and dry for a period of 2-3 days. A temporary shelter should be constructed from a configuration that is easy to assemble.

Debris Hut

A lean-to, half tent, or something as simple as tree branches stacked in a circle around the trunk of a tree, will work as a temporary shelter setting. When building the temporary shelter focus on conserving energy. You do not want to exhaust 6-8 hours of a day in order to build a temporary shelter.

Poncho Tents

A permanent survival shelter should be something that enables the builder to use it for an indefinite period of time. Many temporary shelters can be modified to become permanent shelters if need be. As a permanent fixture this type of shelter may take several hours over the course of several days to construct and complete.

Underground Survival Bunker

The permanent shelter can also be constructed out of natural materials, or include the use of manmade materials. If possible it is advisable to begin constructing a permanent survival shelter long before it might be needed. This will only be possible if you are fortunate enough to own enough land to engage in such a project.

Underground Bunker

The permanent survival shelter, once completed, should provide warmth, cover from inclement weather conditions during all seasons, and a modicum of comfort. It doesn’t have to provide the same level of creature comforts you may have grown accustomed to, but it should provide much better comfort than a temporary shelter. Regardless of which type of shelter is chosen, it should provide protection from all of the main elements that are possible in nature; sun, rain, sleet, snow and wind.


When selecting a site for setting up a survival shelter, temporary or permanent, there are a few things to keep in mind and stay focused on. The site chosen for establishing a shelter will determine how effective the shelter is. If the shelter is built on a bad site, then there is a better than average chance it will eventually need to be moved, which results in lost time and energy. Weather and regional terrain will play a key role in helping you determine the proper location for setting up the shelter. For example, in cold weather regions, low lying areas such as valley floors often experience colder temperatures at night, as well as heavier mist or fog in the morning. Low lying areas also pose the potential of being flooded, especially if they are adjacent to natural sources of running water.

Wind will be an environmental factor to be cognizant of when building the shelter. In warm weather climates you may want to position the shelter so that it is able to take advantage of shallow breezes as they pass by, yet does not expose the interior of the shelter to the harmful and potentially hazardous effects of strongly blowing dust and sand. Dust, dirt and sand are some of the most destructive elements on earth. You will want to keep your gear protected at all times as much as possible. In cold weather climates and regions, it is recommended that the shelter be erected and situated in such a way as to eliminate as much intrusion from the wind as possible. During cold weather wind chill can cause serious life threatening medical conditions in a matter of moments. It will be important to ensure that blowing snow is incapable of burying the door to the shelter, otherwise it may be necessary to destroy a portion of the shelter in order to get out, which results in lost time, energy and possibly material that will not be easy to replace under those type of conditions.

Insects can be problematic in a survival situation. While several members of the insect family are edible food sources, they can also be one of the peskiest problems to contend with when you are trying to rest and relax in a shelter. Finding an area with a light and steady breeze is favorable for selecting a shelter site, as it will help keep insects and pests at bay.

Sun, rain, snow and sleet will make survival miserable if not addressed properly. Likewise, locating an area that allows sunlight to penetrate the shelter periodically throughout the day, such as a partially shaded setting, will be a blessing in disguise. The natural warmth of the sun’s rays can help heat the interior during the day, yet prevent it from becoming too hot. Rain, snow and sleet will collect in low lying areas more than at higher elevations. If there are signs of flooding, flash flooding, landslides, and/or avalanches, then do not select that site for a shelter for any reason.

Hilltop areas are not an ideal location for setting up a shelter. These regions often experience an abundance of bone chilling wind, especially at night when temperatures drop in conjunction with the setting of the sun.

Trees offer both good and bad possibilities when selecting a site for shelter construction. If there are trees in the area you intend to build your shelter in, then make sure they are all healthy, solid and standing trees. You will also want to inspect the tree for signs of wildlife. If there is evidence of insects, such as termites, bees, or wasps, then avoid setting up a shelter near that tree. The same applies if there is evidence that squirrels, birds, or owls are using the tree as a primary residence. These types of animals and insects may be territorial to the extent that they terrorize you, your shelter, and your gear. It will also be important to identify any and all dead or leaning trees, as well as any dead or damaged branches. These hazards are often referred to as “widow makers,” because they can snap, fall, damage, destroy or kill a person in the blink of an eye, or when the next strong wind passes through. It is also advisable to avoid building a shelter near a single isolated tree as they may serve as a natural lightning rod during inclement weather.


In a serious survival situation any naturally occurring conditions can be used as a form of shelter, Cliff overhangs, caves, fallen tree trunks, small natural hollows, and even trees can be used to create a shelter suitable for getting you through the situation. In the event natural materials, or naturally occurring environments, are not available, then it will be necessary to construct one from scratch. If forced to construct a shelter from scratch, then focus on using as much natural material as possible first, before using manmade materials or gear. Once a piece of gear is used for shelter construction, it might not be serviceable for anything else, so be confident in your decision before opting to use and possibly lose that piece of gear.

Natural Cave Shelter

An Underground Shelter refers to any shelter constructed beneath the normal surface of the soil; this means there will be digging to do, unless you are using a natural depression, and even then you will probably want to modify it enough to allow you to use it comfortably. An underground shelter should be roughly 2-3 feet deep, 3-4 feet wide, and 7-8 feet long. Once the trench has been dug the floor should be lined with boughs of pine or cedar to increase padding for a sleeping bag, or to serve as the bed itself. After the floor and bed have been constructed the roof can be placed over the trench. To fashion a roof for this type of survival shelter, find and arrange similar sized logs across the width of the trench, from one end to the other, leaving about 12” of space at one end to allow entry and exit. For better insulation arrange layers of pine or cedar boughs on top of the roof logs. If the boughs create a dense enough cover, you may also want to consider spreading the loose soil over the top of the boughs to improve insulation aspects of the shelter. You can also fashion something similar to the image below for an underground shelter.

Open Desert Shelter

Tree Shelters refers to any shelter construction that consists of a standing, living tree. There are a couple of different configurations that could be classified as tree shelters. One of the easiest methods of constructing a tree shelter consists of locating a tree with low hanging branches. By cutting away some of the lower branches, then standing them on end and allowing the lighter end of the branch to rest against the limbs of higher branches, it is possible to create a suitable survival shelter. You may have to cut branches from other trees in the area in order to complete construction of the outer walls, as well as for constructing a bed, but this type of shelter will help keep you out of the elements. A lean-to also falls under this category of shelters, and is another relatively easy project to construct. Find two strong standing healthy trees to use as the corner posts. Find another heavy duty branch that is long enough to cover the distance between the corner post trees and lash it into place approximately 3-4 feet above the ground; this will serve as the brace. To finish the lean-to, you will need to find several branches that are tall enough to touch the ground, and at a 45° angle, rest against the branch being used as the brace. These branches should be arranged so that they make as much close contact as possible. If possible lash these to the brace, if not, then simply lean them in place. To improve insulation aspects associated with the lean-to use your hands and feet to scrape together natural materials in the area and use them to cover the back side of the lean-to from top to bottom. When establishing a lean-to shelter, make sure the back wall protects you from the wind, and serves as a reflector once a fire is built out in front. The image below displays a lean-to shelter with a fire reflector built out in front to direct heat into the shelter. The back wall serves as a fire reflector as well, which increase the warmth of the shelter overall.

Lean-to with fire reflector

The A-frame Shelter is very similar to the lean-to shelter described above. It can be built as a stand-alone shelter, or as a shelter that utilizes two existing trees as support posts. The easiest method of constructing this off grid castle involves finding two standing trees to use as supports. The diameter of the support trees should be between 8”-12”, anything bigger might pose a problem when trying to enter or exit the facility. Once the support trees have been selected, find two similar sized branches and use them as braces; one on each side of the trees, running parallel to each other. The next step calls for finding enough branches to build a lean-to resting against each of the brace branches. Once that has been achieved additional branches and boughs can be used to cover the roof opening and complete the insulation of the standing side walls.

A Frame Shelter

If you have manmade materials, such as a tarp and paracord, you can create a suitable A-frame shelter in a matter of moments. Find two support post trees, measure a length of paracord long enough to span the distance between the two trees and tie each end of paracord to opposite trees. Spread the tarp out and drape it over the length of paracord. Cut four smaller lengths of paracord and use them to tie off each corner of the tarp close to the ground. This will keep the tarp taut and provide a temporary shelter in far less time than constructing one out of all natural materials.

A frame tarp shelter


First things first, if you are forced to face a survival situation in subzero climates and conditions, then the need for constructing an effective shelter trumps everything else except life threatening medical problems. In frigid, arctic like conditions, building the survival shelter should be the most important part of your battle plan. Regardless of which type of shelter you elect to build in these climates and conditions, there are several concepts to be aware of and adhere to.

  • Entryways—should be kept to a minimum, especially in temporary shelters. The more entryways the shelter has, the more potential for heat to escape, or for cold to creep in. Keep in mind that each and every entry will need to be sealed in order to ensure the integrity of the interior.
  • Activities—should also be kept to a minimum, especially in cold weather environments. Each and every activity we involve ourselves in exhausts energy. Any time you find it necessary to step outside the shelter, you should have a specific plan of action to follow, and that plan should include retrieving more fuel for a fire, additional material to improve insulation, as well as snow and ice to melt for water and food preparation.
  • Bathroom Breaks—should be conducted inside the survival shelter at all times. In cold weather climates exposing flesh to the elements can cause severe damage. If you did not build a latrine inside the shelter, it is recommended that a can, and/or bucket, be used for storing waste until such a time as it can be properly disposed of during the next trip outside.
  • Insulation—is something you can never have enough of in cold weather climates. Even if you are wearing insulated clothing, and/or using an insulated sleeping bag, it is still advisable to use additional material in layers to provide additional insulation, especially as a barrier between you and the ground.
  • Sleeping Bags—need to be kept clean and dry as much as possible. In the event they become damp, flip them inside out and allow the moisture to freeze, then beat the frost off the bag itself, flip it back to standard form and allow it to warm near a fire, yet far enough away to prevent it from catching on fire.
  • Snow—should be left outside the shelter environment at all times. Knock it off your boots, and make sure all snow has been brushed off the outer garments, prior to entering the survival shelter. Once snow gains entry to the facility it has the potential to melt. If it is left on clothes and boots it could collect and turn to ice the minute it is subject to outside temperatures; this will reduce the effectiveness of the garment and may cause additional medical conditions to contend with.
  • Cold—will creep into the shelter whenever an opening presents itself. If you do not have the ability to create and maintain a fire within the shelter itself, then perform a variety of exercises to raise your core body temperature. When doing this, do so moderately. You do not want to exercise to the point of producing an abundance of perspiration as that may also freeze due to cold temperatures and that will help solve the problem.
  • Roofs—need to be inspected periodically to remove excess snow in order to prevent premature collapse of the facility.

Snow Dome Shelters are simple to construct, yet may take a while to inhabit. To build one of these beauties you will need some form of large manmade material, such as a tarp or poncho, as well as some natural material like branches and boughs off of trees. Once you have the material, take the natural products and stack them in a nice pile. Drape the manmade material over this pile so that it covers a majority of the contents and hangs over the sides to the point of touching the ground, or at least coming very close. The next step calls for shoveling snow on top of the material used to cover the pile until it is completely buried, leaving a small opening on one side for the purpose of removing the natural and manmade material at a later time. Once the snow is in place it needs to be packed tight and allowed to settle until such a time as it develops a firmness. At this stage begin taking the natural material out from under the cover until it has all been removed. The manmade cover material should now be easy to remove and the shelter should be suitable for survival. The only thing left to do is find something to use as a door to provide cover for the entrance.

Snow Dome Shelter

Snow Cave Shelters are very similar to the dome shelters described above. In order to construct snow cave shelters you will need to find a suitable quantity of tightly packed snow, such as a snow bank or drift. Once you have located a sizable mound of packed snow, it simply needs to be excavated. The primary focus will be on selecting where to place the entrance; it should be in a position that prevents wind from blowing directly into it, or across the face of it. As soon as you have decided on an entrance, begin digging into the side of the snow mound to a depth of at least 3 feet. At this juncture begin burrowing at right angles to the right and left of the tunnel entrance just created, again to a depth of about 3 feet in each direction. Once this stage has been completed begin carving out sections of the roof to create a dome like interior. This will provide you with ample room to sit upright while inside the shelter and it will ensure that should snow melt, the dripping runoff will cascade down the sides of the walls and roof, rather than dropping directly on the occupants or gear. When you are satisfied with the interior dimensions of the shelter you can begin moving into the shelter and getting situated. Use a poncho, tarp, or backpack to block the entrance and keep the cold at bay. If you plan on starting a fire inside the shelter, then you will need to place a ventilation hole in the roof, and leave the entrance way slightly open to allow for air to flow and smoke to escape.

Snow Cave Shelter

Trench Shelters are considered temporary shelters suitable for allowing a bigger and better shelter to be built. This type of shelter is also similar to the tunnel entrance created for the snow cave shelter mentioned above. You will need to locate an area where snow pack is deeper than 3 feet and firm enough to withstand holding your weight as you walk across it. If the snow buckles under your weight, a trench shelter will not suffice. Once the area has been located and determined to be firm enough to proceed, slabs of snow 6” wide, 2 feet long, and 3 feet deep need to be carved out carefully and stacked individually to the side. Continue cutting these slabs out of the trench until such a time as the trench is long enough to allow you and a sleeping bag to lie comfortably along the bottom. After the trench has been excavated take the slabs of snow you cut out and line the outside of the trench with them, allowing them to slightly overhang the lip of the side they are situated on, then use additional slabs of snow to create a roof over the top. You may also want to carve a curve into the underside of the roof once in place to ensure melting snow does not drip directly on you or your gear. It is also recommended that ventilation holes be placed at each end of the trench.

Snow Trench Shelter

Igloos are the most difficult shelters to build and should only be considered for long term emergency situations. In order to build one of these arctic hideaways you will need to find packed snow that is firm enough to withstand your weight when walking across it. Like the snow trench shelter, the igloo requires carving out slabs of snow to be used as building blocks for the igloo walls. Once the blocks of snow have been successfully carved they must be arranged in a circular fashion. Each layer of snow blocks must then be shaped with bevels across the top which lean towards the center of the igloo; this will ensure that the next layer of snow also leans in towards the center of the shelter and provides structural integrity. Each successive layer follows this format until such a time as a single block of snow is needed to close the gap in the center of the roof. Once finished cut out a section of wall to serve as the entrance and build a small block wall on each side and cap off with a slab of snow.


Those are the options available for erecting a shelter out of snow. There are a few things to keep in mind when sheltering in a snow shelter. Ventilation is an absolute necessity. As you breathe the warm air from your lungs will cause snow to begin melting. As snow melts it will begin running down the walls of the shelter until it freezes into ice. Unlike snow, which is an excellent insulator, ice does not provide adequate insulation. If the interior of the shelter becomes glazed over with a skim of ice, either carve the ice away and discard, or look for another place to build a shelter.


If you are faced with an emergency situation while crossing a desert landscape, then finding a suitable natural shelter may be an exercise in futility. That being said, it will still be necessary to erect a shelter in order to protect yourself from the intense heat of the day, as well as the immense cold that often occurs once the sun sets in the western sky.

The easiest method of constructing a survival shelter in the desert requires digging a trench that is long and wide enough to allow you to rest comfortably. While the trench is being excavated take the loose soil and place it along the edges of the trench at ground level. The depth of the trench should be approximately 18” and cleared of as much loose soil as possible. Once the trench has been created take a piece of manmade material, such as a tarp, poncho, or sheet of plastic, and stretch it across the width and length of the trench. Secure this material in place with the loose soil situated at the edge of the trench, making sure the material remains taut. Repeat this process with a second sheet of manmade material approximately 10”-12” above the first sheet. This will create a pocket of air which will serve as insulation from both the hot and cold temperatures.

Desert Trench Shelter

Regardless of which desert you happen to be stranded in, there are three primary points to keep firmly in mind while building the desert survival bunker;

  • Be aware of the weather. If a storm appears to be brewing on the horizon and headed your way, then avoid locations that are prone to high winds and possibly even flooding, such as low lying gullies and natural depressions. If there is an abundance of vegetation in an otherwise desolate landscape, there is a better than average chance that is where water collects when it comes, avoid setting up shelter in the immediate vicinity.
  • Be aware of desert insects, scorpions and snakes, many of which are venomous and deadly. These may be survival food sources, but they can also be lethal if handled wrong.
  • Stay away from rock formations. Do not build or erect a shelter near the base of any rock formations as they pose the risk of falling rockslides, which can be just as deadly as poisonous insects and wildlife.


Tropical environments are normally ripe with bamboo. This natural material can be used to construct a suitable survival shelter when necessary. As tropical regions normally receive more rain than the rest of the world, it is imperative that a raised platform be considered for shelter construction. There are several raised platform options to choose from, but the general idea consists of harvesting enough bamboo to build the platform between 3-4 existing trees. You will need cordage, or the ability to manufacture it out of raw materials, in order to bind the bamboo together and manufacture the raised platform. The primary thing to remain focused on is getting the sleeping situation off the ground. The annual rainfall totals will leave the ground damp, if not completely saturated, and that will cause rapid heat loss if you lay in direct contact with it. Tropical environments are also havens for fruit trees, the largest of which is the coconut. Avoid erecting a shelter beneath coconut bearing palm trees. A falling coconut can kill a person if it lands on them the wrong way. If you have a tarp or poncho, it can be strung over the raised platform to provide cover in case of rain. If manmade material is not available, then consider fashioning a roof out of banana leaves and draping it over the raised platform.

Bamboo Shelter


In the event you are stranded near the seashore, the easiest method of constructing a shelter consists of digging into the leeward side of an existing sand dune. This will protect the shelter from high wind. Clear an area large enough to house you and your equipment, allowing the dune to serve as the back wall of the shelter. Next, find as much driftwood as possible and use it to shore up the side walls and create a roof for the makeshift seaside shelter. Make sure to leave an opening to use as a door. One word of caution when constructing a shelter anywhere near the shoreline; always check to determine what the high tide level is before building the shelter, otherwise it may become flooded very easily.

Beach Survival Shelter

This wraps up the training on the various types of shelters that you can construct while stuck in a survival situation. It is always a good idea to have a prefabricated shelter in your emergency preparedness kits. If you have a shelter in your bag, it will be easier to get the shelter built during an emergency situation. However, in the event you do not have a prefabricated shelter, or are unable to get to it for whatever reason(s), then the information shared with you here today, should provide you with ample ideas on how to construct a shelter out of natural material foraged for and found in the wilderness.