DIY EMERGENCY SHELTERS
BUILD YOUR OWN EMERGENCY REFUGE.
Build your own emergency refuge.
Emergency/survival situations happen all the time, and most have nothing to do with natural disasters or terrorist threats. Far more happen due to human error and mainly impact those who venture out unprepared. The colder months of fall and winter seem to be when these errors happen the most. I live in northern New England, a mountainous region full of hidden dangers, including rapidly changing weather patterns. Snow can happen at any time starting in October. Temperatures fluctuate from 60 degrees (F) to well below freezing. Footing is often treacherous, even during the best of times, and turned ankles and knees, slips and falls, and cold-weather dangers are always present.
Emergencies can happen to the best of us, whether we are prepared or not, but many can be avoided if you are ready to deal with the situation.
If you ever find yourself the victim of such a situation, would you know what to do? The first thing you need to do is stay calm, assess your situation and think out your next move. If you can’t get yourself out, you need to build some sort of emergency shelter to protect yourself from the elements.
Very few people carry a tent in their daypack. This means you’ll need to find a good location and use the materials you have on hand to build your shelter. Your shelter doesn’t need to be like a cozy room at the Holiday Inn, but keep in mind that this could be a life-or-death situation. If you let others know where you were hiking, chances are you will be rescued within a day or two. Consequently, your shelter only needs to keep you alive for a relatively short duration.
In some situations, you have the luxury of picking your shelter location; at other times, you do not. An injured leg or arm could keep you from moving very far, so you need to deal with what you have nearby.
If you can, pick an area that offers you as much natural cover as possible. Groves of evergreens,
HAVING A SHELTER, WHATEVER IT IS, COULD MEAN THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH.
such as spruce and hemlock, are perfect. They act as a windbreak, and the limbs will help keep snow and rain off you. Caves are also good choices, but you need to be aware that other animals also look to them for shelter. Make sure you are the only occupant and that it’s relatively free of animal waste, rotting carcasses and other potential health hazards. You don’t want to make a bad situation worse. Rocky cliff walls and fallen trees that block the north wind are also great starting points. Even a large hole or depression shouldn’t be discounted.
You should have told someone where you were going and when to expect you back. If you did, any rescue attempts will be launched based on that information. You will want to stay as close to that general area as possible. Don’t wander away to find the “perfect spot” for your shelter.
Take stock of what you have to work with. Start with what you are carrying. I carry some basic items in my hunting/hiking pack (see the sidebar to the right) that will get me through in an emergency. Besides food, water, fire-starting materials and extra clothing, I also carry some cordage and a small folding saw. On my belt, I wear a heavy-bladed bush knife. These are the tools I will use to build my shelter.
Next, look at the natural materials around you. What is available, and what can you reasonably take advantage of? Rocks (to build walls and reflect heat from your fire into your shelter), fallen timber (used to build walls, a windbreak or to form a roof over your head), evergreen branches (to line your sleeping area or used as roofing), leaf litter (for insulation or bedding) and even snow
(for walls or the entire shelter) can all be used effectively. Remember: Work smart, not hard.
SIZE DOES MATTER
Bigger is not necessarily better. In any type of survival situation, but especially in cold weather, the goal is to retain as much body heat as possible. This means thinking small when building your shelter.
The smaller the area you need to heat, the warmer you will stay. Your survival shelter should be no larger than what your body and your gear can comfortably fit into.
TYPES OF SHELTERS
In these situations, I like the “Keep it simple, stupid” way of thinking. What type of shelter takes the least amount of time and effort to build? What is the best one for my situation, and can it be built with the materials at hand?
The three easiest shelters to build in a wilderness situation are lean-tos, debris shelters and snow
A FIRE IS GREAT, BUT WITHOUT A SHELTER, YOU ARE STILL IN JEOPARDY.
h Left: This single-person shelter covers the immediate essentials— weather protection, as well as a heat source for warmth and melting snow and ice into water. Notice the wind break protecting the fire area.
h Top: Beginning the lean-to building process in an arid area of southern California. The process is the same everywhere, even if the materials are different. (Photo: Christopher Nyerges)
h Above: The bones of this two-sided lean-to are up. Notice the shade from the hot sun that this structure offers. (Photo: Christopher Nyerges)
Find a sheltered location to keep out of the wind. Then, build a fire and make a shelter.
Two of the tools the author finds invaluable for shelter building: a Gerber Gator folding saw and an L.T. Wright Jessmuk JX2 bush knife
The author’s trusted Gerber Gator folding saw and L.T. Wright Jessmuk JX2 bush knife are ready to hit the trail.