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The Principles Of Survival Shelters

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Freezing to death due to analysis paralysis is not conducive to survival. With all the information available about the various types of survival shelters, it can be easy to spend time focusing on which shelter type to use without ever coming to any conclusion.  Understanding survival shelters is about understanding your environment.  You have to know what you need to protect yourself from and what you have at your disposal.

example of survival shelters in the woods

Lets put away all the fancy names and technical aspects and look at what you really need to consider.

Protection from the environment

Most survival shelter guides focus only on cold and precipitation.  However, these may not be the problems you are up against.  Survival is equally important on a hot, dry desert, as it is anywhere else.  Building a survival shelter that is designed to protect you from the cold is only going to exacerbate the situation in a hot environment.  So before starting your decision making process, take an honest look at the environment you need to protect yourself from.

Consider these factors:

  1. Temperature
  2. Precipitation
  3. Wind
  4. Wildlife
  5. Human Threats


When looking at the temperature, don’t just think about the cold.  Consider the heat as well as any changes to the environment that are likely to come with nightfall or weather conditions.  In cold conditions, you need insulation.  In hot conditions, you may need shade and airflow.  The temperature might sit comfortably where you can skip a shelter all together and focus your energy on something more important.


In general, precipitation is pretty straightforward.  Either you’re going to have wet weather or you’re not.  The complicated part about precipitation is understanding how it will reach you.  I’ve seen far too many “survival shelters” built to block the rain overhead, but placed right in a draw where the water would run directly through them.  There’s no point in building overhead protection from the rain if you’re sitting in a ditch that’s going to flood.


The wind can work with you or against you.  In a hot location, a good breeze can be a lifesaver.  However, it can be your worst enemy in a cold environment.  Blocking the wind may be all you need to survive if the temperatures aren’t too cold.  But heavy winds can cause damage with flying debris as well as potentially turn your cozy cooking fire into a murderous disaster.


How many times have you wished you were on a Caribbean beach swinging in a hammock?  And how many times has it crossed your mind that a hammock is a survival shelter?  In Central and South America, the hammock is used to provide safety from disease transmission, insect stings, or animal bites.

Human Threats

If you are in a tactical situation, your largest threat may be other humans.  Will your survival shelter provide cover or concealment?  Cover is anything that will protect you from your adversaries’ weapons.  Concealment is anything that will hide you from them.  This probably won’t apply to most survival situations.  But it is worth considering if it ever does.

Person using a hammock in the jungle

Resources Available

Fortunately, you can often find the materials you need to build a suitable survival shelter.  These may not always be the ideal materials, but they may have to do.  From leaves and sticks to a hole in the desert sand, you can usually find some way to mitigate the threats to your survival.  However, there are some standard supplies that are very helpful.

In a wooded environment, it should be easy to find enough twigs and leaves to cover you from the elements.  However, you may need to attach some sort of support beam if you want to be able to move in and out.  My survival keychain is an every day carry (EDC) item that ensures that I always have 5 feet of paracord with me to attach those supports.

In the desert, a shovel would be nice to have, but a makeshift shovel may have to work.  While it may not be the optimal solution, digging a deep hole to lie in can provide some much needed relief from the sun.  This won’t be comfortable at all, but in a true survival situation it may be necessary.

Are you in the Deep South?  Bugs, snakes, and other wild life may be your biggest threat.  Getting off the ground may not keep you away from everything, but it’s a huge improvement.  However, finding good materials to hold you up may be a real problem.  If this is a potential threat in your area, you may want to check out a storable hammock like this one.  It’s lightweight, easily packed, and can serve as a simple ground pad if you don’t need to be lifted off the ground.

Don’t Be Overwhelmed By Survival Shelters

In a real survival situation, you will have enough stress to deal with.  Don’t create more by over-analyzing the shelter.  Whether it’s hanging shingles or making critical boardroom decisions, we all conduct risk analyses every day.  Take those skills with you into your environment.  Determine the risk from the elements and create a mitigation plan by looking at the available materials.  Then build your shelter.  It only needs to keep you alive for one night.  Then you can assess your weaknesses and adjust as necessary.


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