How To Build A Survival Shelter

Why should you always bring a survival kit on your day trips in the outdoors? What should you have in this survival kit? Will you really survive with this kit? These are questions that I will not answer. I’m really not an expert in survival things, but I’ve learned it’s important to always be ready to survive a night out, just in case your climbing or skiing day is longer than you expected. That’s why I usually spend one weekend a year practicing survival techniques with the minimum of material. This year, I decided to try it in colder conditions. 

What you need:

  • A good plan. Take time to think before spending too much energy on things that won't help you.

  • The survival blanket that you always have with you and a big garbage bag that you should also have somewhere in your pack anyway.
  • The little saw on your Swiss knife is good to have, although I suggest you use the least possible time and energy on cutting wood.

  • A lighter.

  • Wood. Tons of wood.

The rest is up to you!

 Building a survival shelter is much more difficult in winter than the other seasons. What you could have used on the ground is covered with snow, so you have to work harder to make your shelter. We decided to build a kind of elongated tepee form with fir branches and small tree trunks. We put our survival blanket inside, on the higher of the two long walls, and the garbage bag on the bottom in a way that if the snow melted over the shelter, the water would not fall on us inside. It is important that your garbage bag go completely to the bottom of the side wall. Mine was at six inches from the bottom. A fire makes a big chimney effect so there will be a big airflow entering through the places not covered by the blanket or the bag, so you don't want that to be near you. To be comfortable, we had to put wood in the fire each hour.

Even though our experience was quite successful, there is one thing that we had and you won't, if you find yourself stranded: time. That is why I don't suggest building a completely closed shelter, as it will be hard to make it safe (the use of fire in a closed space is, as you know, very hazardous), especially if you’re racing to do it before the dark. Concentrate on the bare minimum: a roof, seperation from the ground and a fire. In fact, in winter conditions, snow will offer you good insulation if you use it wisely. In that case, don't waste too much time with the fire, as you will be wet from the melting snow. If you’re stuck there for days after, then you can try to construct something more elaborate.

A few tips:

  • Take the time to choose good, dry wood. Green or rotten wood will make a big smoke cloud in your shelter, which will make your night a nightmare.

  • Choose your location wisely. You need firewood and fir branches, and water is important but can be at a few minutes’ walk. Keep the "view on the lake" for your summer vacation.

  • When constructing your shelter, try to keep it as small as you can. This will save a lot of time.

  • When packing for the day, even if you’re not sure you’ll need it, bring your big down jacket anyway. It will make a huge difference. (Yeah, I missed mine...)

If you don't know what you should bring in your survival kit and in your daypack, try to spend one night in your backyard with nothing. The ideas will come to you by themselves!

 As I said, I’m really no expert. If you want to know more, just go on YouTube and search for "survival" videos—there are tons of them.