Time: 3 Hours
Risk: Skin Damage, Difficulty Thinking, Hypothermia, Frostbite, Heat Stroke, Death)
What is shelter, and why is it so important?
Shelter is anything that helps keep your body temperature below 100°F and above 95°F (Below 37.7C and above 35C) The standard is 98.6°F/37C, our body’s normal temperature range throughout the day. Getting wet can make our bodies cool faster, and becoming dried out can cause them to heat up faster. You may have experienced this when you are at the pool on a breezy day.
Clothes Can Be Shelter
Shelter can be as simple as wearing the right clothes for your environment. In cold or wet weather, a thermal layer, like wool, can keep you warm. It will help wick moisture away and can keep your body temperature balanced. Above your thermal layer are your regular clothes, then an outer layer of a coat or rain jacket. Wool socks are an excellent option for keeping your feet warm and dry when outdoors.
It is essential in hot climates to wear a loose-fitting long sleeve shirt and cover as much of your skin as possible to prevent skin damage. The long sleeves will also absorb your sweat, keeping your skin dry without losing the effect of air circulating over the wet fabric, helping to keep you cool. It’s also essential to wear a wide-brimmed hat that allows for good circulation.
Simple Shelters Conserve Energy
A shelter can be anything that keeps you out of the sun, wind, rain, snow, or that keeps you warm. A wall that blocks the wind on one side can also reflect heat from a fire on the other. It’s critical to use what’s already there or other natural features to shelter you from the elements before you try and build something more complex. Leaning enough tree branches against a fallen tree and providing shade will save a lot of time, keeping you from starting from scratch. Wrapping yourself up in a tarp can keep you dry if you are also wearing clothes with layers.
These simple shelters may only work for one night, and that may be all you need. Sometimes that’s how long you need to get to a better place or come up with a better plan without spending more energy than needed. Once you have taken the time to get to know your surroundings and used a simple shelter for a night, you can make a medium or long-term shelter.
The Basics of a Survival Shelter
- KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid. Don’t overthink it; if you need shelter for one night and then moving on, don’t spend hours building a shelter.
- Don’t choose a place too high that will get a lot of wind or a place low where cold air and water may settle.
- Dry creek beds are not a good place for a shelter because they may not be dry for very long.
- The ground will try and absorb a lot of your body heat if you let it. Create a layer of insulation at least a foot thick between you and the ground; this can be some foliage or grass or a think blanket.
- Don’t build your shelter near animal trails. Not only can they surprise you, but the other animals that hunt them will also be in the area.
- Don’t build your shelter underneath a tree with many large dead tree branches; these can fall in high wind and are deadly.
- Check for insects near your shelter, like an ant bed or a bee or wasp nest.
- Look for a place that provides shade throughout the day, not just in the evening or morning.
- When creating a wall from the wind with a tarp, rocks, or other found materials, be careful to build it at a 45 to 50-degree angle, not at a 90-degree angle, which would absorb the full force of the wind. You want to help direct the wind, not fight it.
Tarps, Tents, & Mylar
With the above basics, you can make a shelter almost anywhere out of nearly anything. But there are a few items you can get to help you stay adaptable and prepared. A mylar blanket or tube tent is affordable, easy to use, and very effective. Mylar is known for being lightweight and excellent at reflecting heat, keeping you warm. Tarps are useful to create large areas of shade, possibly covering a car you’re sheltering in a while, keeping the windows open to keep air circulating in warmer weather. You can also use a tarp to give you insulation from the ground when using a tent while using a mylar blanket to keep warm inside the tent.
No matter what material you use or where you are, you can use the basics to find the right place to create a shelter, and with practice, you can learn to create more comfortable shelters in many environments.
The easiest shelters to use are the ones that nature made for us, like caves or other natural shelters, but they may not always be as simple as they first look. Animals need protection just as much as we do, and they also always look for the path of least resistance. When considering caves or other natural shelters, there are a few essential things to consider. Like fresh signs of animals sleeping like flattened grass, animal trails to the shelter, bits of food leftovers like bones, or other signs that you may be in something else home.
Natural shelters are still worth the time to ensure they are safe and unused. Smaller caves are better than bigger ones because they will take less time to warm up and will take less material to create a barrier at the entrance. Always check and see how deep the cave is; if you can’t see the back, don’t use it. A fallen tree by a hill or cliff is also a great natural shelter that can take a short time to prepare your shelter.
Finally, when you are out and need shelter, remember, keep it simple, keep your core body temperature within the 100°F and above 95°F (37.7C and above 35C) range. Your shelter just needs to be big enough to lay down and rest but small enough to keep your body heat it, nothing extravagant. The smaller the space, the less there is to heat.This is from our Survival Fundamentals series.