Primitive and Low Tech

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Shelters are Number 2 in the Hoods Woods Rule of Threes
(You can survive 3 seconds without air, 3 hours without shelter, 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food)
From that rule, you can see how big a priority shelter is in a survival situation. That should also tell you that proficiency in shelter building is a MUST.
Below are a few examples of field expedient shelters. Some of the Pictures are mine, And some are another persons work. In those instances I have credited them. Im not sure where the black and white line drawings I used came from(A Military FM I believe) and I don't think they are copyrighted. If you see something you recognize or that you created, feel free to drop me a line at

Figure 1, Lean-to

This design is by far one of the most familiar and easiest to build temporary shelter.
This is a shelter I built a while back, it fits me, my gear and lots of insulation, not much else. its a good sleeping place and is very warm.

 You can build this shelter with or without a tarp and if built right will keep the rain out quite well
Build it double sided to make a tent like structure that will keep out the wind and rain quite nicely.
See below:


This is one variation on the Leant called the debris hut. THis is a snug and cozy little hooch that
keeps you very warm. this design is particularly neat because it utilizes the ridge pole to hang out your tucker to cook. This design can be changed by using short side polls and leaning them against the ridge pole (human made ,large Log or rock) and laying the debris on top. (see below)

Here is a shelter called a Wickiup I built but did not finish:

Here are some pics of a good Leant type shelter provided by Chaos from the "Primitive" Yahoo Group
the lean-to is set up at "Eagle Rock"

Tarp Shelters

Needed Materials:
* Polypro, Nylon or Canvas Tarp: At least 8x10 with good solid grommets
* Rope or Cordage: 100 ft  of 550 Paracord works well
* Two Trees or other similar items
Hatchet, Machete or Survival knife for cutting stakes
(or you can bring plastic or metal tent stakes)

The Advantages of tarp shelters are three fold:
1) They are extremely lightweight                                                              
2) They can be erected in a very short time                                               
3) They are very effective at keeping out the weather if erected correctly   
Many Ultralight backpackers and Primitive campers utilize a simple tarp for shelter. This is by far the lightest and fastest (if not the most secure) shelter system you can carry with you.
 To begin erecting your tarp shelter, start by picking a comforable area between two trees, this area should be relatively free of odd stubs and tree roots as would any campsite.
Then run a line between the two trees at about hip level (3 to 4 feet)  between the two trees. Be sure this line is TIGHT and remains so. Use whatever knots you deem necessary to maintain the tightness. Next you should suspend your tarp from the line  being sure that is evenly spaced across either the long axis or the wide axis of the tarp. Tie lines at least three feet long to each grommet and steak the tarp out. This will form a tent-like structure that is very effective in keeping out the majority of temporate (non winter) weather. In the winter time, this shelter can be modified by adding debris such as leaves or pine neadles inside to help insulate the shelter. The addition of a decent survival blanket to this debris will make this shelter warm if not large. I will add that this is not, by any stretch of the imagination, the best cold weather shelter system. However, for spring, summer and fall camping, it serves quite nicely with a decent mummy style sleeping bag and a sleeping pad. The addition of a bug net which is easily suspended from the ridge line of the shelter makes this a perfect shelter for a quick camp!

tarp tent

Shelter Tips

While Wonderful, these pictures do not show features I  have found from the experience of building and using these shelters using primitive and non primitive materials (such as tarps and ponchos) to be essential to their functionality in rainy conditions. (Other than the tarp shelters which speak for themselves)
When building shelters you wish to stand for more than a night or two, a certain amount of time and effort must be expended in the building of said shelter, if only for the purpose of improved comfort, durability and overall peace of mind.
One of the most important of these features is a series of latticework throughout the roof and sides of the shelter. This allows you to use smaller material such as bark, piled leaves and grass thatch without fear of it falling through. When using a tarp in a leanto ,  rainwater makes disconcerting bulges in the roof that can hold as much as 5 gallons of water depending on the size of the spaces between the lattice work. While this might sound like a good technique for water collection, it can also cause leaks and the weight of the water can bring the whole shelter down on top of you. This is obviously not conducive to your continued survival as it violates 2 of Ron Hoods Rule of threes, you cant breath with a plastic tarp over your head and you aren't sheltered when your shelter collapses. If you manage to get out of your wrecked shelter, you are now wet which is one of the main heat loss mechanisms. In other words you are in big trouble.

My experience is that the spaces between your lattice work should be no bigger than that of your hand stretched out. you can build your lattice work in one of two ways, one is to select or cut sticks of similar length and lash them in the desired pattern

Or you can weave flexible green limbs between the crossbeam, the support beam and each other, this makes a particularly strong roof and saves on cordage as well

Shelter Choices & Materials

Shelter materials come in 3 categories:

1) Structural: Materials in this category are are such things as large saplings, logs rocks, anything that holds weight. In a survival situation, it should be something that is easily procurable and strong enough to withstand the weight of the other shelter materials listed below.
Saplings and large limbs being the structural material used in the majority of shelters , I will concentrate on them
The choices you make in this stage of the shelter building process will dictate what type and what size of shelter you build. Keep in mind that bigger is not always better. A small tight shelter is easier to keep warm via body heat than a larger more airy shelter type.

2) Weather Resistant: This category can contain anything from plastic tarps to pine bows and bark to the shingles on your house. Like shingles, the materials in this category must be able to keep the wind and water out of a shelter and consequently keep you dry and warm. Good examples of natural shelter materials are woven pine bows, thickly piled leaves, reeds, cattail stalks and grass thatch. Your materials choices will obviously depend on your environment.
Note: because I lack the experience necessary to advise about tropical, desert or plains environments, my recommendations will be centered on survival shelter for a temperate environment in either a deciduous or coniferous forest.

3) Insulation: this is the final phase of the shelter. Like the blankets on your bed, Insulation keeps your body heat where it belongs, in your body. select insulation that is prominent in your area. Some ideas might  be pine needles, cattail fluff, grass or fur. Basically, you can use any fluffy dry material  so long as it is not poisonous and contains no burs . Burs can create sores that will get infected; they are also darn uncomfortable!

Once all of the above goals have been achieved , you might want to take some time and improve your shelter. Perhaps you might want to make it large enough to have a place to build primitive tools and store your gear. A work space is great on rainy days when you are shelter bound and you need to keep busy.

For more information on Primitive Shelters, head to the Hoods Woods web site and order volume 2 of the Woodsmaster Series where Ron takes you into the wilderness and teaches you many valuable lessons unable to be tought with the written word. Trust me, you will thank yourself!

By Dave Seelman
Winter Survival
Many survival rules apply across the board to everyone.  I would like to talk about survival in the winter.  The cold completely changes your priorities.  You can die from it in as little as three hours.  That makes it a top priority around here.  Whether you are in a house with no heat or lost in the woods, your number one priority needs to be shelter.

There are many layers of shelter to be considered.  Your first layer of defense is your clothing.  You need to be able to keep in your body heat while getting rid of excess moisture.  Cotton clothing will not do this for you.  Cotton will absorb moisture and leave you cold and wet.  The best way to control your body temperature is with layers of clothing.  Start with a base layer made of a breathable material such as polypropylene.  This will wick up any sweat and it will evaporate away from you.  Be aware that polypropylene will melt if it gets near an open flame or high heat.  Next comes an insulative layer.  Wool retains between 80 and 90 percent of its insulative properties when it is soaking wet.  Some synthetic materials may also be suitable for this as well.  Finally, a shell to keep you dry and to break the wind.  I personally prefer Gor-tex for this.  It is available in the military surplus market as well as the sporting goods market.  With these layers you should be able to last a while on foot.

Your next priority should be heat.  In the wilderness, this usually means fire.  In your home this may be your only option if there is no electricity.  You need to be able to start a fire and sustain it.  This will require fuel and an ignition source.  These are simple things you can carry all the time.  For example, you can carry a cigarette lighter for ignition and a piece of cloth or cotton for a starter fuel.  In wet conditions sustaining a fire can be a real challenge.  You may have to start small and as your fuel wood dries work your way up to a good fire.  You want to establish coals at the bottom to keep the fire alive through the night.  You must also be mindful of your exhaust.  Carbon Monoxide WILL kill you.  Make sure your smoke has a place to go.

The final priority should be a shelter from the elements such as snow, rain, and wind.  If you are in a building already than this is already accomplished.  If you are in the wilderness, you may have limited options.  Look for a natural shelter such as a cave or underneath a tree.  Avoid hazards like trees that are fallen.  They call them widow-makers for a reason.  If you can’t find anything already constructed, try to burrow in the snow or under a pine tree if it is available.  You need to insulate yourself from the ground or it will suck the heat right out of you.  Make a platform from whatever material you have to keep you off the ground.  If you are seeking rescue then you need to make yourself visible outside of your shelter.  Hang a brightly colored piece of material above you.  If you can, make a large X on the ground for over-passing aircraft.  Three fires in a triangle shape is also a sign of distress.

When you are done with your shelter you can concentrate on other priorities.  Food isn’t very important in the short term because you can last quite a while without it.  You will need water next.  Melting snow is a very slow method of obtaining water but it may be necessary.  If you get water from a stream or other source, make sure to boil it before drinking to avoid illness.  The last thing you need is to be sick in this situation.  You need to keep hydrated to keep your body temperature up.

I hope this has been informative to you.  Keep alive and keep safe.

I hope this little page helps you in your shelter building endeavors, For more information, go to your local
Barns and Noble  and look for some good survival manuals. You can also get great information be heading on over the  Hoods Woods Web site. Both options will give you great ideas and information. Remember, though, you can watch every video and read every book but REAL survival knowledge comes from practice practice practice!!