(Article 2 of 6 in the Survivor Series)
For this series, we’re assuming the worst scenario: lost in the wilderness without gear. (Ok, so lost, naked, and injured would be worse, but field medicine is beyond my scope, and trapping, skinning, and tanning is probably beyond most of us.) Anything that you might have in your pockets or pack could be extremely helpful, but assuming that you will have tools will leave you unprepared if you don’t.
Importance of Shelter
Shelter is the most important element in any survival situation. A person can live for weeks without food, days without water, but only a few hours without shelter in bad conditions. (Remember, we’re assuming bad conditions.) Most cases of hypothermia happen between 30º and 50ºF (1º and 10ºC), temps which can easily occur in the desert, so being lost in a place that’s hot during the day does not mean that you don’t need a warm shelter at night. There might also be rain or snow, storms, high winds, clammy mist, not to mention animals!
A great shelter can be constructed with no tools, and without great strength or effort. Looks don’t matter, only effectiveness counts. Also, comfort is desirable, but it isn’t the purpose of a shelter. The primary objective of a shelter is to keep you warm and dry. Security from predatory animals might require more construction than you’ll be able to produce. If you hike often in areas with bears and wildcats, you’ll need to research strategies for those conditions.
Beyond the obvious physical protection, a shelter also helps to keep a lost person from wandering, and searchers are far more likely to find a person who stays put. So, pick your site well, build the best shelter you can, put out lots of *signal markers, and sit tight.
*Signal markers A paracord key fob or bracelet in a bright color is perfect for this. Unbraid it and tie it around a tree close to your shelter so that it can be seen from all directions. This will also help you find your shelter when you are foraging. Any shelter made of natural materials is difficult to see from any distance, so make sure you put up a marker before you go off looking for water!
Conditions and Types of Shelters
The type of shelter you build will be determined by the conditions. If you’re in deep snow, well, snow is your most likely building material. If you’re in the desert, you’ll want something that will provide shade during the day but hold in warmth during the night. In the forest or mountains, you’ll probably need protection from wet as well as cold.
Your conditions will determine your site, as well. Assess your situation.
- Use natural law! Warm air rises, cold air falls – so use a slope to your advantage (bed high, door low) or even dig a hole to use as a cold sink. Get your bed as close to the ceiling as possible to take advantage of warmer air.
- You want several inches of insulating material between you and the ground. Never lie directly on the ground, it will steal your body heat.
- Avoid a gaping doorway. The entrance should be just large enough to squeeze through, and at the lowest point unless your problem is too much It can be blocked from the inside by a pack or extra debris or snow.
- A good shelter should have room to sit up and lie down (not necessarily in the same place).
- Within the confines of a well-insulated shelter, you should barely be able to hear any outside noise.
- Always make sure you have ventilation, no matter how cold, you always need fresh air.