How to Build a Wilderness Shelter

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Trapped outside without a tent? Don’t worry. With a little ingenuity, you can build a shelter that will keep you safe while ensuring you have a fascinating survival tale to tell.

1. Let Nature Do the Heavy Lifting

You may get lucky and find out your work has already been done for you. Look around for handy shelters like caves, domes formed by low branches, or sheltered gaps in rock faces. If you can find one of these lodgings, you can save your energy for other survival tasks.

2. Location, Location, Location

If you’ve got to improvise, put some thought into selecting your site. The best spots will be flat, relatively close to water – but not too close, or bugs and thirsty critters will bother you – and free of hazards like dead trees or ready-to-fall boulders.

3. Frame Up

Find a long, sturdy stick that’s at least as tall as you are and lean it against a rock, stump, or limb that’s two or three feet high. Then make a series of small A-frames by leaning two sticks at a diagonal on either side of this main ridge pole. Basically, you want to make a cornucopia that only you will be spilling out of.

4. Put a Bough On It

Once the frame is built, cover the exterior with boughs or evergreen limbs, leaving the mouth open so you can crawl in and out. If there’s snow on the ground, pack that around the limbs; it’s great insulation. Place a pile of leaves, needles or snow near the opening so you can seal the entrance once you’re inside your makeshift home.

5. Invest in Flooring

Sleeping on the bare ground can be cold and wet, so brighten things up and conserve energy by spreading the floor of your shelter with evergreen needles, dry leaves, or anything else you can find for a layer of insulation.

6. Thank You for Not Smoking

Even if gets really chilly or dark in your shelter, resist the urge to build a fire or spark your gas lantern. Both are recipes for carbon monoxide poisoning. Instead, build a fire outside the shelter, use it to heat up rocks, then move the rocks into your shelter to keep things toasty.
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Once you make it back to civilization, gather your friends and toast your ingenuity with a Dos Equis.

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September 16, 2013 - 8:30am
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