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Making a Debris Shelter

July 15, 2012

So, there you are. Lost in the woods after a wrong turn. The night will be cold and damp, and is coming soon. But if you have a little knowledge, you will probably be fine.

From my book, Surviving Urban Crisis discussing shelter. This section assumes you can’t stay in your vehicle for whatever reason and now you’re working out of your Bug Out Bag, and should have a tarp packed in your BOB. You can, however, get by without the tarp.


Shelter & Sleeping

You should consider your vehicle as primary shelter if you can, keeping aboard space blankets*, water, ponchos* and a tube tent*, in reality meaning your car BOB, in case you should have to abandon it. The latest surprise survival story this year, in other words surprised they survived, involved a young woman that ended up in a snow bank for nine days out in the boonies of the Rockies. Cell phone went dead (no cigarette lighter charger) as the first mistake. No food other than a couple candy bars. No water other than melted snow. Probably not even a blanket, but that detail wasn’t mentioned in the news coverage. But she survived by staying in the car.

– Two tarps (8 feet X 6 feet) or minimalist tent* or full weather ultra light hammock* and about 6 ‘gutter nails’, which are aluminum spikes about 8 inches long, to stake down the tarps. If you suspect you may not want to be seen from any distance, maybe the color choice should be earth like colors, like dark brown. If you want to be found, on the other hand, then the brighter the color the better. You should study and practice the various ways one can make shelter from ordinary tarps. When you decide to stop to rest for the night on your journey, set the tarp(s) as if it’s going to rain, which it probably will. Put a collection container for water under one downhill corner of the tarp arrangement for free rainwater to drink.  Staying dry would be nice, as you can get hypothermia in surprisingly warm temperatures if you’re wet. The links at the end of the book lead to sites that make maximum use of tarp shelters. Again, practice some setups with your tarps, tent or hammock before you need to use them to survive.

You may use a downed tree or limb, or your hiking stick lashed to a tree, throw your tarp over it after making a nest of leaves, grass, pine straw or whatever to lie on, shown below. You will thank yourself for thoroughly picking out any rocks, pine cones or sticks out of your nest material before you put up your shelter tarp. I can almost guarantee you’ll be finding any you missed while you lay there trying to sleep. Try to make your shelter so that the prevailing winds will blow against the small end in this version, or the side that’s folded under for your ground cover.

The colder and nastier the weather, the smaller and more insulated your sleeping space should be, to the point of making a debris shelter by piling on limbs, branches and more leaves, grass or what have you until you pretty much bury your space under a couple feet of insulating materials. If weather conditions have snow on the ground, pack a layer of that on top of the debris material covering the tarp. That will completely seal out wind.  Don’t bother trying to tie any of this together as you pile it on, the natural tendency for this stuff to become a tangled mess will be sufficient, and you want to be able to move on with your tarp without too much extra work to dig it out of the pile.  The sleeping space for these conditions should be as small as possible, just large enough to wiggle into and be able to try to find a comfortable position. A debris shelter can be made without a tarp, but it’s a lot more work and doesn’t become water proof unless you have practiced building shelter before.  Try to make it so that the entrance to your shelter can be closed kind of like a real tent, as best you can. Or pile limbs and stuff across the open end on one side to cut as much cold wind and rain as possible.

Making a debris shelter and using a Swiss Army Volcano Stove

This guy demonstrates good techniques and practices for survival. He needed no tools to make his shelter. He constructed it with the closed end facing the prevailing wind. Using what appears to be an ‘emergency sleeping bag’ to collect his leaf pile, he gathers enough stuff to make a snug shelter. Also note, he put most of his gear back into its storage pouch or BOB as soon as he was done with it. He used a firesteel* and tinder to start his fire. Sleeping inside that plastic bag during a cold night, in my opinion, may have you waking up cold and damp from condensation forming while you slept. So, perhaps he was just sleeping on it, not in it.

I point out his putting his stuff right back into his BOB. This is good policy even when not in ‘hostile territory’ where one may have to flee with whatever you could grab with only minutes of notice. If your stuff is scattered around your BOB, you may be forced to leave precious gear behind. When just out in the woods hiking, stopping for a rest or lunch, it helps keep items from getting lost.  <<<


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