Build a Shelter from Debris

The three things you need when the SHTF are water, food, and shelter. Knowing how to create a shelter from wind, cold, and animals could save your life. People lost in the woods are often found dead from hypothermia – their bodies got too cold. A simple shelter can make the difference between life and death.

The good news is that all sorts of things close at hand can barricade you from whatever is out there.

More good news: no tools are needed to build a debris hut. Collect sticks and other debris such as leaves, moss, ferns, and tree bark to trap precious body heat. These insulating materials reduce heat lost directly through contact with the ground, exposure to the wind, and our natural radiant energy. Any shelter can hold heat and slow down heat loss.

When finished, a debris hut resembles a big, sloping, water-repellant A-frame. Sticks hold it together with debris insulation. The shelter creates a bubble of air within that is warmed by your own body heat.

Here’s how to build your own debris shelter:

  1. Pick a spot with plenty of construction materials. In the woods, go for places with sticks and logs. In a more urban setting, find boards and metal rods. Look for a site with natural shelter and avoid barren, windswept hilltops or chilly gully-bottoms. Be sure the location is not threatened by flooding from running water or overnight rain. Look up to see if there any danger from falling objects such as tree branches or parts of buildings. Steer clear of game trails to avoid night-time visitors.
  2. Find a stout 8-foot timber or rod and prop it up on a tree stump or crook. This angled ridge pole should be able to bear your own weight. Prop the low end of the ridge pole on a rock to increase the volume of space inside around your feet. Create supports for the ridge pole from two sturdy branches. Use a digging stick to dig two small holes to set the shelter’s width and set them in the holes. Lash the two support poles to the ridge pole if you have or can find twine or cording. The amount of space under the ridge pole should be as small as possible, only big enough for you to fit inside plus six inches of debris on all sides.
  3. Lay shorter ribbing sticks along the length of the ridge pole on both sides. Remember to leave room for a doorway. The ribbing sticks should touch the ground about six inches beyond where your body would lie.
  4. Pile smaller sticks on top of the ribbing sticks and at right angles. Criss-cross latticework sticks keep the outer debris from falling inside the hut.
  5. Heap large piles of leafy debris on top of the structure and inside. Place the softest, driest debris inside where it will be closest to your body. The finished debris hut should have at least three feet of debris on top and on all sides.
  6. In windy areas, lay sticks over the top layer to prevent your shelter from blowing away.
  7. Make a plug for the doorway by stuffing a shirt or backpack full of leaves or other small debris.

Now you are ready to crawl inside and burrow into the leaves. Make sure that insulating debris separates you from the ground and the structure’s sides.

Although sleeping in a debris hut doesn’t rival a night in a posh hotel, they are handy if you get separated from your survival gear when the chips are down. A big bonus is that the debris hut requires no fire for warmth.

Although the steps are simple, it takes three or fours to assemble a hut from found materials. It is wise to begin building with enough time before nightfall. In fact, begin as early in the day as possible, as soon as you know you’ll be spending the night outdoors in the elements.

Also, weigh the fact that three or four hours doing rough construction burns a lot of calories. Do you have enough food to replace them?

Don’t count on constructing a debris shelter in a stark environment like a mountainside above tree level or featureless desert. And even though there are plenty of materials to build a better debris hut in a jungly environment, there are too many threats slithering and crawling around on the ground that experts in woodcraft advise against doing so.

If you like playing in the dirt, head on over to a national forest or parkland to practice your new survival skill before you need it. Use only dead materials and always tear down what you built up. Leave nothing but footprints.

Since a debris hut is made from materials at hand, it tends to blend into its environment. This is a good thing when you want to hide out and avoid detection. But if you are lost or in distress and need help, hang a bright piece of fabric, reflective foil, or other shiny object outside the debris hut.