Found a good "PRIMITIVE SURVIVAL SHELTERS" link? Let Us Know!
PRIMITIVE SURVIVAL SHELTERS
Wilderness Survival Guide
Date: 21 Jan 1997 10:58:04 U
From: "Schilling Joe
Subject: RE: Favorite Emergency Shelter
Well Dave, A Survival shelter that I can recommend is kind of difficult to explain. I'd have to draw it for you. But it's a round shelter, it's walls are stacked walls, with four poles going up in the center which surrounds the fire pit, Bracing the poles are beams tied around the top of the poles. Now. Put long poles all around on top of the stacked walls to for the roof leaving enough room for a smoke hole. Then put slabs of bark or whatever on top of the logs, and gather up a huge amount of leaves and brush and pile it on.
It should be twelve feet wide from the inside of the stacked wall to the other inside side. (Say that five times fast:-))
My friends and I made one and has kept us warm whenever we camp out in it in the winter, and cool in summer. Any question please feel free to ask!
Date: Wed, 22 Jan 1997 14:07:41 –0700
From: Bill Blohm
Subject: Favorite Emergency Shelter
An overhung concavity in the side of a rock or cliff with a small fire in front, facing across the wind rather than away from the wind.
Date: Thu, 23 Jan 1997 08:51:14 -0700 (MST)
From: Tom Elpel
Subject: Re: Favorite Emergency Shelter
Also, I once hated sleeping by a fire and putting wood on it all night, but then I designed a pit shelter with a hot coal bed under it where I could sleep in shorts and a t-shirt without a blanket or any insulation, or even a door. These take 3-4 hours to construct and can be used continuously. Now that I know I can be warm when I want to, I find that I do not mind the discomfort of putting wood on a fire all night; in fact, I kind of enjoy it.
I have decided not to send along my entire treatise on shelters (16 pages, 20 photos), but I will inform the group when it gets published in a magazine. As for pit shelters with coal beds, here is the generic form:
Dig a grave, long enough for your body, plus a foot or so extra, and deep enough so you can lay down, but can bend your knees without touching the ceiling (I like lots of roll-over room). Then dig down another 6-8 inches for the hot coal bed. Digging takes about 2 hours with a stick. Start a fire in the pit and burn hot for 1-3 hours, depending on soil moisture (burn time not included in total construction time). A hot coal bed on the surface will produce steam when the dirt is put back on it, but in a pit shelter you can cover the coals with the now-dried dirt from the pit walls. The dirt puts out the coals, what you want is the hot mass of the ground. This covered, put a roof of sticks/logs across most of the top, except for a narrow doorway at one end. Cover the roof with debris to fill the cracks between the sticks, then cover with earth. Properly constructed you can sleep in shorts and a tee-shirt, without ever closing the door, down to about 20 degrees F. A coat draped over the hole is sufficient for a door if necessary. For successive nights, fill with debris (an underground debris hut), or make the pit extra wide and bring in a row of football sized hot rocks along one side.
There are unlimited variations on the pit shelter, hybrids with other shelters, some partially above ground, door at the end instead of straight up. Utilizing natural pits can significantly reduce the dig time. My favorite is to move into a pit created where a tree has fallen over, pulling a plug of earth out with it's roots. (This can only be done in damp weather, otherwise the fire may enter the roots of the tree and emerge days or weeks later.) Also herbs can be placed on the floor of a scout pit for a medicinal steaming.
A tip for debris-hutters with not enough debris: In dry soil build a hot coal bed in your hut site while you are gathering materials for the hut. In wet soil just bake the surface of the ground and sweep away the coals.
I had a nice campout this last weekend with my 6 and 7 year old daughters. We hiked up into the mountains and made a regular hot coal bed (with wool blankets) in the dry sand under an overhanging rock. The moonlight was beautiful.
These skills do leave impacts. Please think before you dig. Do not construct pit shelters in a green meadow. Instead use gravel bars along rivers (watch your water line!), or uncolonized soils below the forest canopy. You should not be able to tell you were ever there when you are done. Also remember that forest fires cost $millions to extinguish. The bill goes to the person who starts them...
Thomas J. Elpel
Date: Tue, 21 Jan 1997 04:52:35 +0000
From: Dr AF Bourbeau
Subject: Re: Favorite Emergency Shelter
MCMULLEN David wrote: Can anybody recommend a survival shelter that will provide protection from the elements, warmth, hold 6-8 persons and by assembled in a day. Would this be as simple as building one extra large debris hut? Ideally this shelter should be built in any season. I am looking for this shelter to be built in May. Looking forward to hearing these responses. Benjamin, great article on primitive cooking.
My opinion: For a group of this size, I would make a bark tipi or a bark hogan with a fire in the middle. I don't believe in debris huts (see next post).
Subject: Debris huts
I just don't believe in debris huts. Can someone try and convince me? The theory behind a debris hut is that you create insulation around your body. The only insulating material in the world is trapped air.
Granted, a debris hut will work in a nice dry environment with lots of debris which create a lot of air spaces. Even so, it will take one person many hours to make even a moderately functional model. That's too long!
Also, when wet, I'm sorry, but there is no air in water, and in my experience, a debris hut will only work if you make it while it is dry out and it doesn't start raining bad enough to soak it through. Once it is wet, it contains hardly any air, therefore no air space, therefore no insulation.
When it is wet and cold out, there is no way that I've ever been able to stay inside a soaking wet debris hut without freezing to death. Seems to me there are much better shelters available, and that staying dry is the absolute priority in survival.
Also, in real survival situations, you never have more than an half hour or so of daylight available.
Furthermore, moreover and in addition, what do you do when there is no debris, when there's just a bit of snow on the ground etc. Seems to me that debris huts have been way over-emphasized as a useful survival shelter.
Shelters in general is too big a subject for one thread, so I'm looking here just to discuss the merits (or dismerits) of debris huts. Does anyone have any data on debris huts? Please state condition of debris, weather before and after construction, type of clothing used etc.
BTW, I was just kidding about the convincing part. I'm just trying to learn about a technique I know very little about...
Date: Tue, 21 Jan 1997 20:24:44 –0600
From: Benjamin Pressley
Subject: Re: Debris huts???
My experience with the debris shelter is in 15 degree Fahrenheit temperature with about 6 inches of snow accumulation. I know you Canadians and Rocky Mountain people laugh at that snow accumulation!
Anyway, I tested this shelter under the conditions stated with jeans and a T-shirt and it performed very well. However, I agree with you, it took way too long to construct, took a lot of effort and would be my choice only if I could not do better and/or if there was plenty of debris to build it, easily accessible. I had about 24 inches of debris on the exterior and had the interior stuffed with dry leaves that I packed it full with and packed down 3 times before I crawled in. I have not tested this shelter in a down pour but I have heard that it does not shelter from rain, it soaks through. I would love to hear from some people's experience what their favorite emergency shelter is.
Date: Tue, 21 Jan 1997 22:50:41 +0000
Subject: Re: Debris huts???
Dr AF Bourbeau wrote: I just don't believe in debris huts. Can someone try and convince me?
I'm a firm believer it making what fits the environment/location/weather/time/etc. and am not stuck on one design. I've had good luck with debris type huts (I prefer to call them squirrel nests) and variations on them, plus other types of shelters.
If the material is there, and the time, I’ll make a debris hut. I have used very wet leaves once while in a downpour, and was soaking wet while making one, but when it was done and I crawled inside and took off my wet clothes, I was warm. It was above freezing for that one. I had mostly cotton on (jeans, t--shirt, wool sweater and a nylon jacket) The coldest I've been in one overnight was -10f. I didn’t have the door well made and it leaked cold air the whole night, but I was able to sleep for most of the night, and make it warmer by the 2nd night. I was wearing wool pants/shirt/jacket/hat/mittens. I just used debris (the fluffiest dry leaves I can find, or grass and ferns) for inside, and stuff it completely so I have to jam myself in. It may take 5+ minutes to wiggle my way back in with the toes pointed.
They do take awhile to make, and I find that no matter how well I build it , it takes 2--3 nights before I am truly warm. After that it is only every few days that I have to add more debris, plus dry it out, etc. I'll also add bark to the outside when I have it thick enough. The big tradeoff is that I don't have to waste energy gathering more wood to keep me warm all night in a bark shelter. I have also heated football sized rocks and brought in as a space heater (keeping it away from the debris!) for really cold nights, or when I wasn't able to make it as well as needed for the temperature. Also used heated rocks in thatched huts.
I have built them after dark, but it's much slower. Another method is to make a big leaf pile (or pine needle) and just crawl inside that. With some bark and/or hemlock boughs on top, it'll stay pretty dry and get you through the night in a pinch. I learned a good method of gathering the debris while I was a kid from watching my pet skunk. He used to "borrow" any clothes left lying on the floor, and would gather these up and take downstairs to his nest behind the dryer. He would gather up as much clothes as he could in his front paws, and then pull them backward to his nest. I adapted this for debris gathering. I get down on all 4's, gather up as big of a pile in my arms, and then scooting backwards and raking them towards me. I can usually keep the pile the same size (if not bigger) by the time I get back to the shelter and then toss it on. Also a forked stick as a rake helps alot and saves your fingers!
A way to increase the amount of trapped air is to alternate 6-8" of debris, 6-8" of small branches, more leaves, more branches, more leaves, etc. This also helps to make the debris go farther. Just makes sure that all the holes are filled, and after a few days and a couple of rains, you'll need to patch it up. The last layer of leaves that I put on is about 1'+ and when I patch it up, just use debris after that.
if there is snow deep enough for a snow tunnel, then I'll make one, or just jump into a snow bank, enlarge a hole big enough to sleep in, line the bottom with a foot of boughs, and cover the top with limbs/boughs/bark etc. It's a bear making a debris hut with 6" of snow on top of solid frost! When I was a kid we used to make a long fire and then rake it to one side, make a browse bed and sleep on the heated area with reflectors all around (see Hood's Woods www page for a better way of doing this).
I have also made thatched huts, but they take a while, so stopped trying to get one done the first day out. IF you find yourself lost where it's been logged, a log Hogan/cabin may be doable quickly with bark/debris/mud/grasses to fill in the cracks. A Lean-to with a fire and reflectors can also work.. Again, the more debris piled on, the better, both for holding in the heat and keeping dry. I'll make a browse bed and use debris for my blanket (or a thatched grass mat/sleeping bag). Also a small entrance opened out to a fire with a big reflector behind it and to the lean-to to trap in the heat. Sleeping long ways to the fire is warmer. Always gotta pay attention to the fire once you start adding debris! That’s when I’ll switch to rock heaters. I find my lean-to’s usually end up as a debris hut anyway (or my debris hut starts out looking like a lean-to :--)
All in all, it comes down to location. If you have lots of firewood and little debris, it makes the choice for you. (and vice versa). I have been in more situations where I knew I could make a fire less shelter where my body heat does the work, versus getting a fire started for sure, and having to make that important first choice correctly, I'll usually go for a good thick squirrel nest over a fire.
After one is properly made, it will remain dry! I make mine with a min. of 3' of debris on the outside (4'+ for -20f and colder). Wet, dry, it doesn't matter much, just make it thick. I have been inside during flashfloods (6" rain over night) and stayed dried. If not made well, you will get wet. Some bark on top will also help keep it dry. I have one I made a few years back, and it still remains dry inside, even though I haven't done any maintenance on it for a year. I've slept in 20F dressed in just socks/jeans/wool shirt and been too hot. After taking off the wool shirt down to a T-shirt, taking off socks and propping open the door a bit I slept very well. The key is finding the perfect location, since that is half the battle of making one. (or anything). They can't be made in all conditions, but what can?
What else are people making? I'm all for a better, faster shelter (these can take up to 1/2 day or more to make), and I have been known to sleep in a bush once or twice wishing I had a better shelter made :-)
Date: Tue, 21 Jan 1997 22:10:11 –0600
From: Mark Zanoni
Subject: Re: Debris huts???
Dr AF Bourbeau wrote: Shelters in general is too big a subject for one thread, so I'm looking here just to discuss the merits (or dismerits) of debris huts. Does anyone have any data on debris huts? Please state condition of debris, weather before and after construction, type of clothing used etc.
Ah, Debris huts. Well, I've slept in 'em many times with many different variations. Some simple, basic rules:
1) never sleep in one with your dog, or at least a dog that likes to kick your door in.
2) it usually takes a couple of nights to work out the kinks (i.e. find and fill all the nasty little draft holes, water pathways etc.)
3) there is usually always something that will work in a pinch if oak leaves or the equivalent aren't available, but there are exceptions as far as time of year and locations)
4) they can indeed keep you dry in a drenching rain storm and will keep you warm if you build it right.
5) it does take considerably more time to build a good one than 1/2 hour (although there are folks that claim it can be done in this time). Usually takes me about 3.
Other things that I have learned and tricks that help are:
Layering: If you are in an area where there is not a lot of good insulating material, a layers of sticks followed by smaller layers of what debris is available improves the insulating capacity of the materials you do have. Oak leaves or grass (preferably hollow stemmed) make the best insulation hands down! Followed by other types of hardwood leaves with pine needles taking a distant last place.
Other materials will work in a pinch. I have slept in a debris insulated with sphagnum moss and small layers of leaves, sticks and pine needles. I was warm with a light shirt on, but then the temp. never dipped to far below 60F that night. I did take the precaution of covering the moss with slabs of birch bark to elevate the sponging (and thus drenching action). I stayed dry and warm through a drenching downpour that soaked other people in tents. Another material that probably would work as a supplemental material in a pinch would probably be dried cattail leaves. I personally have not tried this, though. There are times when there is simply nothing available to insulate with, or at least very little. A stint spent in the Wind River Range in Wyoming required Wickiup type shelters and fires. There just was nothing but sparse grass and very sparse and small evergreen needles. We found ample supplies of dead, punky wood that seemed to work adequately for a Wickiup, but I just couldn't imagine trying a debris hut. Maybe if it was stuffed with live pine ranches...although...it didn't look to inviting at the time.
Size is critical. Think very cozy sleeping bag, not tent. If you have an aversion to cramped spaces this is definitely not the shelter for you.
A good door is important in most instances. I keep my opening very small (just barely big enough to crawl in) and usually use a combination of a debris plug and a shirt or jacket if I have one.
My cold record is 21F with a light shirt and a sweatshirt on. Things were tolerable as long as my silly dog didn't knock my door plug in (she didn't care as the debris usually fell on top of her), however there were very irritating mini drafts that needed to be plugged.
I have never used debris that was already wet. I would imagine that using the layering technique I described above you could create enough dead air space to keep you from freezing to death. I think I would try it if getting a friction fire going was out of the question. However, if I had other options I can't imagine I wouldn't take them.
I have friends that claim they slept in these things naked in temperatures in the teens and were hot. One friend had a woven grass "sleeping bag" inside one at 20 degrees and had to come out he was so hot. He says he slept on the ground then with only the grass bag and was warm. I wasn't there to see it, so I can't verify it.
Well, that's my 2 cents. Other takers?
From: Max Warhawk
Date: Tue, 21 Jan 1997 23:39:15 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Debris Huts
The month was June. High temp about 70ƒ F and low 45ƒ F. About 12 Boy Scouts went on a mini survival trip. Could not take food or matches. Could take a knife and sleeping bag. Of course all us MEN left the bags and brought only the knife. (being the prepared scout I was, I promptly smuggled in beef jerky and red licorice, boy, it never tasted so good!) Anyway, we paired up and built an elaborate lean-to, 8 ft x 8 ft and 3 ft high. This we completely packed with dry leaves -mainly oak. Build time, about three hrs..
Come bedtime we retired to the hut and wormed in, short sleeves and all. My partner came completely unglued after about 2 minutes, where I myself could have probably stayed in the hut another 15 or 20 seconds, but there no hut left to stay in. All the little spiders and ticks took their toll. We exploded from the hut and were left with nothing but a scattered pile of sticks and leaves. Total destruction time: about 5 seconds.
We hauled some of the bigger pieces of wood to the main fire pit and found every kid on the trip sitting by the fire already. We really didn't outlast them, we just built our hut pretty far from the fire pit.
Next day we built a small "dome" using mostly remnants from the first hut. We put leaves on Top and on the SIDES only. We cleared the floor of all debris and put down a layer of dry grass (foxtail type) about 10 inches thick. We actually got a couple hours sleep. Short sleeves didn't go well with the comfort factor.
Later in life I've built similar structures and camped in them down to 23 below zero. Of course I took the sleeping bag at that temp, but all things equal, the wigwam type shelter if far more comfortable (to me) and takes about the same time to build.
From: Marc Besse
Subject: Re: Debris huts???
Date: Tue, 21 Jan 1997 22:17:16 -0800
The old saying where I live is "If you don't like the weather wait ten minutes". A friend and I where hiking on a long day hike in the Cascade mountains one spring day when a fast moving storm overtook us. We where 8 miles in and had now way of returning in the storm. The storm hit fast it brought 70mph winds with hail. We would have probably died of exposure if we tried to hike back in the storm. There is no way in hell we could have constructed a debris hut. I have found that in a survival situation sometimes it is just not feasible to construct these shelters in time. The solution was to find a stand of low growing Silver Fir and Cedar Trees.
Round up as much debris and line the base of the trees with the debris and climb in. This makes an excellent first need survival shelter. The storm passed as quickly as it came and we decided to hike out before dark. Both my friend and I where prepared for wet weather, but you add the wind and hail stones in and you have a dangerous combination. On our way out it was already getting dark and we came across an unprepared family stripped down to their underwear shivering around a fire the father had made. Their clothes where all completely soaked. This fire did not seem to help them much because the wind was stripping away all the heat from the fire. We attempted to give some helpful information to the man about some simple survival techniques. He was not interested in listening (the classic I know what I am doing syndrome). I always wonder to this day if the family made it out OK. My friend and I found shelter before we got soaked and hiked out toasty warm. We used very little energy to build our shelters and got in them quickly before the worst of the storm hit. Sometimes the simplest shelter can make a big difference. I think this type of shelter is often overlooked but they work well for me.
Date: Wed, 22 Jan 1997 08:19:41 +0200 (METDST)
From: Par Leijonhufvud
Subject: Quickie shelters (was: Debris huts???)
True, I have made the quickie shelters along this line; find a good spruce (tight, fairly low branches, and nothing *too* unpleasant underneath), make a bed with more spruce branches and sleep more or less well for the night.
Another quick way to build a shelter is to build a structure out of whatever is available (usually dead wood and "second rate" -- the good stuff goes into the bed -- spruce boughs), and then covering it with moss (the kind that grows in thick mats on rocks, "armored" with blueberry "bushes" ). This moss is virtually waterproof, at least I've have slept dry in some fairly good downpours.
If you have the time and inclination you can first cover the shelter with a thick layer of spruce boughs, and use the moss as a water- and windproofing shell.
I have slept well in such (unaugmented) shelters wearing a fairly thick wool shirt and hat at app. 40F/5C, no fire or hot rocks.
On the question of debris huts; the only possible materials around here I have discovered is reeds and cattails, both of which pretty much requires getting wet to gather.
 Around here blueberry is a low (12-18") "bush" that grows just about everywhere in the pine forests. As is lingon berry and some others, whose latin names I can't recall at the moment. All do a good job armoring this moss until you can roll off thick blankets from the boulders, lug them to our shelter and roll them out; "instant shelter".
Date: Wed, 22 Jan 97 08:52:53 cst
Subject: Debris huts / shelter
I am a real fan of the debris hut, but as was mentioned earlier, circumstances and area dictate the most suitable shelter. I stayed in a debris hut at TB's "back to back" for 2 weeks this past year when hurricane Bertha came through. I admit I had 1 small drip which was quickly and easily patched. Temperatures were not very cold, but the hut was very comfortable. Careful smudging helps to eliminate the presence of any previous residents :) I used the layering technique. Total construction time was only a couple of hours 2-3. In other circumstances where I would not be out long, or the weather fair, I doubt I would build one (applying the conservation of energy principle. I would seek alternative shelter suited to the terrain.
Don't get me wrong, if I could be out for more than a day or 2, and the conditions were right ( no snow here in Texas to deal with ) then this would be my shelter of choice.
When teaching survival skills for the general public, I teach the debris hut as primary. It does a couple of important things for a "lost" person. 1. It anchors them to a specific area making them easier to find (hug a tree). 2. It helps psychologically since they can now "feel more secure". 3. It is easier to rely on for that extra measure of time to be "found" than relying on that person having practiced fire & shelter skills. 4. It is easy to remember what to do under stress.
Date: Wed, 22 Jan 1997 09:34:30 –0700
From: James E. Burdine
Subject: Re: Debris huts???
The only experience I've had with debris type shelter was during a year we decided to camp without benefit of a tent. We stacked dead leaves into a platform large enough to support our sleeping bags. Then we piled more dead leaves on top of the sleeping bag leaving only the opening to wriggle into. Even though the nighttime temp dropped below freezing we were very warm. I think even a canvas, or blanket bag would have kept us warm under the same circumstances, Oh I almost forgot the old fashion army "rubberized" poncho we pegged over the whole mess to waterproof and wind proof the whole thing.
From: David MCMULLEN
Date: Wed, 22 Jan 1997 13:04:20 EST5EDT
Subject: Re: Debris huts???
My experience with debris huts has been mixed. Personally I feel that the debris hut is over emphasized. The optimal time to complete one in fall is 1-1.5 hours by yourself. In September (when there are little leaves on the forest floor) it could take as many as 4 hours to make one. In general I have found that 3 feet of insulation on top off the shelter is sufficient for above freezing weather wearing a T-shirt and shorts. In freezing weather the thickness will easily go to 5-6 feet.
Another thing I will swear by it to stuff to inside to overflowing with leaves. This is the only way to provide enough internal insulation. A good door is essential also. I have gone overnight at 8 degrees Celsius in a rainstorm with heavy winds in 1 foot of insulation in only a T-shirt and shorts. The wind ripped through the shelter but I did not get wet.
I can usually find dry insulating material underneath logs or thick piles of leaves. I always try to place dry material inside of the hut and wet material on top. Even if wet material is used inside, I have found that body temperature will usually dry it out a little. Of course in an evergreen forest one will have trouble finding enough debris to build a shelter. Green boughs can be used, but you must double all thickness’. In a pinch you can always stuff your clothes with leaves. This will usually help a little with insulation. I think the main aspect of the debris hut is not comfort but mainly to allow you to survive the night.
Date: Fri, 24 Jan 1997 14:55:48, -0500
Subject: Debris huts???
Debris do work, that is if they are constructed correctly. Yes is does take a little more time but I have slept in them in very cold weather...yes even in the rain. Making a grass mat to insulate you from the ground will help a lot - time permitting, of course. The shelter must be packed completely with leaves, grasses, etc. The heat from your body will dry the material close to your body and it will keep you from getting hypothermia. I agree that they sometimes can be uncomfortable but they will keep you alive in a survival situation.
Return to Primitive Wilderness Survival Guide
Please Read The Website Disclaimer!
Copyright 1986-2012, The Survival & Self-Reliance Studies Institute (SSRsi), All Rights Reserved
Site conceptualized, designed, created & maintained by MEG Raven
Snail Mail: SSRsi, PO Box 2572 Dillon, CO. 80435-2572