How To Build A Shelter Using Natural Resources


In my last article on the joy of shelter building I concentrated on the times when we used a vehicle or vessel to keep us safe from the elements or when mother nature herself provided a cave or hollow or other such natural covering.

This time around I’m going to share a little on some of the experiences I’ve had when Lady Luck is smiling on some one else, times when we’ve had to build shelters from scratch primarily with natural materials.

The first piece of advice I’d give when you’re about to build a shelter from natural materials is look around for something manmade!

Unless you’re trained in the artisan skill of thatching roofs the chances are if it rains your leaf shingles are going to let in water. A plastic bag buried in your purse or pocket will go a long way towards providing a precious bit of waterproofing.

Building A Teepee:

This lovely leaf teepee that we built in the Smoky Mountains looks to be the opitome of primitive shelter building yet hidden beneath its lush foliage is a trash bag covering the apex. Thankfully it didn’t rain but it was very comforting to know that if it did we would remain dry, even if it meant sitting upright and back to back. As the weather turned out to be dry I sometimes wish we had lain down on the trash bag instead as were eaten alive by chiggers on this expedition. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Using A Poncho For Shelter:

One of my absolute favorite items of clothing because its multi-faceted nature is the military poncho, yet I had never even heard of one before I met my husband. These days I carry one in my car, my camping kit, my survival bag and we have several others littered around the house that our boy plays in. In addition to keeping you dry, a poncho has many potential uses in a survival situation; a rucksack, a raft, a tarp, a medical stretcher and a smoke house to name but a few. And they make quick and efficient shelters. You can string one up in whatever manner you fancy or if you don’t have enough cord to construct a ‘tent’ just lay one over any primitive shelter that you have made to act as extra waterproofing.

Here in Alaska we strung one between two trees and then I filled the open sides with large leaves to help keep the heat in. When using a poncho in wet climes be sure to tie off the hood so you don’t get leaks. Conversely, when it’s scorching prop the hood open so it acts as a vent.

Building A Lean t0:

Another basic shelter to make when you’re too exhausted to do anything else or perhaps when the light is fading, is the ‘lean to’. I was making this one on a Lost Survivors shoot for Travel Channel as the sun was going down in Appalachians in Kentucky. The main spine was an old tree trunk that had fallen and caught on another tree (not fallen to the ground) then I placed cut branches and leaves to form the back wall. It was another night on the forest floor, which is never ideal but the shelter blocked a harsh wind that was kicking up.

Building A Platform Shelter:

Pandanus trees are great for shelter making, they look a little like palm trees but have these mangrove style prop roots. It’s the roots that are special, they are both sturdy and bendy. We made the cross slats of the platform from these roots and once they were covered in palm fronds it was like sleeping in a bed, they bounced a little when you laid down. Wonderful!

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