The knowledge to construct natural shelters and/or the knowledge to carry the right portable shelter with your supplies is a basic survival need. Shelter generally means staying out of the elements, but it also includes enough cover to ensure the ability to stay warm and dry.

Shelter is a more complex survival need, shelter in the summer is very different from the shelter needed in the winter. While you can survive a few nights out in the open during the warm summer months, it isn’t necessarily an option once the temperature begins to drop.

What is a Survival Shelter?

Survival shelters are generally meant to be a temporary, covered, location to help keep you warm and dry while bugging out or getting home. The goal with a survival shelter is survival and not comfort. These shelters are constructed to help protect yourself from extreme heat, cold, rain, wind, and snow. The local environment it created allows you and your family to rest, sleep, eat, and hide when necessary. While most survival shelters are meant to be used short-term, sometimes long-term versions are needed. The 3 main types of shelters can all be made based off the amount of time you wish to use them.

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Importance of Covered Shelters

Knowing how to build a covered survival shelter when you need it can mean the difference between life and death. The cover can protect you from many different threats when you find yourself having to sleep and rest outdoors. Finding water should be your first step; then building your shelter near to, but still at a good distance from, your water source would be the next step. Your emergency shelter will protect you by:

  • Providing shade from the sun and the heat that radiates from it
  • Helping to create a barrier between you and wild animals and annoying insects
  • Providing a shielded cove to withstand rain, wind, and snow
  • Providing enough protection to keep you as dry as possible, when using natural substances
  • Providing a camouflaged hiding spot

In our everyday lives we don't often have to think about the above dangers, however when we talk survival, along with hunger and thirst, these are the biggest concerns. Not having a covered shelter can put you at risk of sunburn, heatstroke, hypothermia, snake bites, and more. Any of which could lead to serious health concerns or even death.

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The 3 Basic Types of Shelters

There are 3 essential, commonly known, types of shelters: an A-frame, a lean-to, and a dugout.


~The A-frame style, also known as a debris hut, shelter provides cover from at least 2 sides, as well as overhead protection. The use of an A-frame will give the feeling of staying in a tent, especially if the rear end of the tent has added coverage to ensure no entry from behind.

~This form of shelter is considered a medium effort build. You will need some solid branches, rope, tape or natural thatching, and plenty of leaves or debris to construct this structure. Just as the name suggests this structure should come to a point with a single branch running along the top with other branches coming down at an angle like the shape of a capital 'A'. Depending on the weather you can either secure only the first and last set uprights to the center branch, or if you are in a windy or snowy environment you may want to thatch all uprights to ensure a solid shelter. To finish it off, lay plenty of leafy branches and debris over the sides of your shelter to cover the openings, creating a type of ceiling to keep you dry and warm.

~If you are carrying all the right supplies, a large tarp, some rope, and a hammock can create an even more comfortable, elevated, version of an A-frame. String a rope as high as you can reach, between 2 trees. Throw your large tarp over this center line. Then, tether the 4 corners to other surrounding trees, stumps, or structures. This should create a taught, waterproof roof. Next up is to hang your hammock. The use of your hammock will get you off the ground, unlike the standard free-standing A-frame shelter.


~The lean-to is the easiest shelter to build. Unless leaned up against a large boulder or cliff side, a basic lean-to only offers coverage from 1 side. To gain the most security the constructed side should be built to block the wind from whipping through while you sleep.

~As the name suggests this shelter is meant to lean against some trees, a boulder, or cliff side. If leaned against some trees, try to pick some that offer low branches that can create 'hooks' to hook in the top branch that the uprights will lean on. Securing this top bar with thatching's is recommended whether your location offers forked branches or not. This will ensure your shelter doesn't come crashing down on you. Once your top horizontal branch is placed, lean several other branches upright against the top branch at a slant. Finally, like the A-frame place leafy branches and other debris to create a solid wall to protect you from wind, snow, and rain.

~Similar to the A-frame design you can use a tarp and some rope to create a one-sided shelter. While it wouldn't technically be a lean-to, due to the use of ropes for suspension, the idea of having only 1 slanted side of protection fits the basic design of this shelter.


~A dugout shelter is one of the most ancient forms of survival shelters used by humans and animals. While not widely used in these modern days, they are a more permanent survival shelter solution if SHTF. Due to its more permanent stability, this type of shelter takes the most work to build.

~Dugout shelters can be fully encapsulated in the earth with a flat roof, or dugout of a hillside, mountain, or embankment with an external level and roof. Like the name suggests the construction of a dugout starts with digging out a cavern or shallow pit large enough for you and your family to lay/relax comfortably. If you opt for the completely internal shelter you will want to dig it deep enough, wide enough, and as level as possible to enable you to fashion a flat roof to cover your entrance. When digging out only a partial shelter, whether straight into the earth or into a cliffside, you will also need to be able to enclose it in a lean-to or A-frame roofing system.

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Shelter Use Cases

Selecting the shelter type you use and how long you will need it depends on different types of scenarios. Knowing these scenarios can help your determine which shelter to use and how stable it should be.

~Stay Put

~This would be the ideal situation for most people. Staying in your home throughout the disaster/survival situation would be the best option whenever possible. Preppers generally have pre-stocked food, clothing, bedding, and comfort items like books, already in place. If you are without power and the inside of your house is warmer than outside, then sleeping in the yard in a standard camping tent is also a comfortable option. It keep syou home but allows for natural air flow to cool you and your family off.

~On the Move

~When a SHTF scenario requires bugging-out, you won't be able to take all the comforts of home with you. Having a tent or even a couple of tarps and a hammock may be your only comfort options. In these scenarios, keeping dry and cool or warm, are the ultimate survival goals. If you can pack an insulated blanket along as well, it will go a long way in keeping you dry, warm, and protected from the rain, snow or wind. If a heavy blanket is not available, having a sleeping bag in your preps will provide a good second choice.

~If you are not able to pack any supplies due to an emergency bug-out situation knowing how to make a simple natural shelter like a lean-to using branches, leaves, mud, and other natural items will come in handy.

~In the Wilderness

~If you wind up in the woods, whether trying to get home, bugging out, lost on a hike, etc.; having a shelter plan will make the situation a little less stressful and unnatural. The good thing about being near woodlands is that there will be plenty of supplies to make whichever form of shelter you would like. Having a natural shelter in a woodsy environment will provide an added benefit of camouflage, to hide you from unwanted passerby's or wild animals.