Shelter helps regulate the body’s core temperature. It is essential for staying warm in cold climates, cool in hot ones, and dry in rainy ones. A good shelter is large enough for a comfortable night’s sleep, but small enough to be snug and warm.
A substantial shelter protects against animals, mosquitoes, and other pests; shields against wind and rain; and promotes a deep sleep, which is crucial for maintaining energy and a positive attitude.
Deciding on the proper type of shelter requires an assessment of terrain, climate, season of the year, and available resources. Victims of a plane or car crash may find the wrecked vehicle, if it is in no danger of catching fire, better than anything they can find or make. Those cast into a survival situation after dark may have to use any available space and await daylight to search for better shelter. Caves, walls of piled rocks, and hollows in the ground reduce the bite of wind. Beware low and high ground. Cold air and frost tend to collect in depressions, which may make for an uncomfortable night’s sleep. The highest ridges or hilltops, on the other hand, are likely to be raked by winds.
Winter shelters should be designed to retain heat while being open to ventilation. Summer shelters should protect against rain and insects.
In general, entrances should face east to catch the rising sun, but shelters in a northern temperate zone should have a clear exposure to the south to catch maximum light and heat.
Shapes and materials can vary widely as conditions and resources change.
Consider the spectrum of Native American shelters: They ranged from igloos to thatched huts, from earth lodges to skin-covered tepees.
Unless you are thrown into a survival situation with no chance to prepare or pack gear, tents generally are the best portable shelter option. Tents deflect rain and wind, trap body heat, provide a bit of privacy, and protect you and your gear from insects and other small pests.
Choosing the best shelter requires you to evaluate the likelihood of rescue and how much time you have to work before it gets dark. Constructing a shelter, requiring a significant investment of time, makes sense if you plan to wait for help to arrive or need to heal from injury before moving on. Assembling a series of temporary shelters is a better alternative for those attempting to walk more than one day to safety.
Some shelters, such as tents, fit into either situation—good for long- or short-term living. If only an hour or two of daylight remains and no tent is available, a simple shelter made from a pile of forest debris, overhanging branches, or a stretched poncho may have to suffice for one night.
If you’re not carrying shelter materials, evaluate your surroundings to decide on the best materials at hand. These may include branches, snow, sand, and leaves.
UNDERSTANDING TYPES OF TENTS
Tube tents are light, easy to rig, and deflect wind. One-person versions are ideal for backpackers but are not as warm as two-person versions, which double the amount of trapped body heat.
Wedge-shaped, two-person ridge tents have space for storage and cooking under the flysheet. They can be erected in a wide variety of conditions. Domed tents rely on tri-pole construction for strength in high wind. Their sides can be strengthened by packing exterior walls with snow. Geodesic dome tents are sturdy but must be lashed down in high winds.
SAPLING OR BRANCH SHELTER
This shelter option won’t work in desert or polar regions. However, for hikers who get lost in the woods, it’s a practical way to take advantage of readily available building materials: young trees, sticks, leaves, and grass. Start by choosing two roughly parallel lines of saplings. If there are no trees small enough, drive pliable branches into the ground.
Clear the ground between the lines. Tie the tops of saplings or branches together to form a frame for a curved roof, like that of a Quonset hut.
Place a waterproof barrier such as a tarp over the frame. It could be as simple as a plastic sheet. Weigh down the edges of the sheet with rocks to keep it in place.
If no artificial roofing material exists, you can weave a roof to protect you from rain by forming a lattice of sticks. Fill in the lattice with leaves, grass, and turf.