How to Build a Shelter

Shelters Using On-Hand Materials
This simple pup tent can be made if you have a poncho and some rope.
This simple pup tent can be made if you have a poncho and some rope.
HowStuffWorks 2007

It's vital in any survival situation to make use of anything you find or already have with you. You can often find useful materials left behind by others. A bit of discarded climbing rope, some ripped plastic sheeting or even an old hiking boot can be of great use in the woods. You should always gather whatever you have or find and keep it at your base camp. Items like ponchos, nylon hammocks or parachutes can serve as shelter materials.

If you have a poncho or any kind of plastic sheeting, you can build several different types of shelters. What you want to do is mimic the shape of a tent. For a basic shade shelter, all you need to do is spread the material out so you can get under it. If you have some rope, you can tie it between four trees to form a canopy. You can fashion a tent shelter by running rope down the center of the poncho between two trees, then staking the sides into the ground with sharp sticks to create an A-frame. Another simple lean-to shelter can be made by tying two opposite corners of the poncho to trees. The other end slants diagonally to the ground and can be secured with stick stakes or heavy rocks.

If you don't have any rope, build a one-person tent from tree branches:

  • Take a forked tree branch and wedge it into the ground about a foot deep, with the "Y" pointing up.
  • The ridgepole is the center ceiling support and should be straight and sturdy. Run it from the ground to the fork, resting in the "Y."
  • Create an "A" for the tent door by resting sturdy diagonal branches opposite each other that meet at the fork.
  • Use vine or thin green branches to lash together all three support points.
  • Create a ribbed frame with branches set diagonally along the ridgepole, wide enough so you have room inside.
  • Once you have your frame built, drape your cover over the top and stake it down with sharp sticks.
This one-man tent is easy to build and provides good shelter from the elements.
HowStuffWorks 2007

If you have enough material and want to suspend yourself from the ground, you can create a cot. Find two long, sturdy branches and roll them into the material on each side like a long scroll, leaving about a foot of wood exposed at each end. Then simply lash the cot to four trees a few feet off the ground. Proceed aboard slowly, but your body weight should pull it tight as long as it's wrapped with enough material.

Combine this above-ground cot with a cover to form an elevated platform. If you can't find four trees in close enough proximity, use a single forked tree at one end to form a "Y"-shaped base. If you have rope but no tree to tie into, tie it around a medium sized rock and bury it 6 to 8 inches into the ground. If you tie rope or twine higher than the shelter, you should attach drip sticks. Just get a 6-inch stick and attach it to the line a few inches from where it meets the material. This allows the water to run down the stick instead of into your shelter.­

In the next section, we'll look at how to build a shelter using only natural materials.