One of the most important things one can do if lost in the wilderness is find shelter. The elements can very quickly turn a bad situation worse, and can have deadly results. There are many ways of obtaining shelter in the wilds. Finding natural shelter is perhaps one of the easiest, if you know how. Caves, overhangs, hollowed trees, fallen trees, snow banks and sand dunes are just a few examples.  Many forms of shelter can be carried into the wilds, it really boils down to personal preference.

Shelter is one of the first things I look for if I am lost, or hurt. I usually have at least some food and water with me, so I typically will take care of the shelter part next. Shelter can also continually be upgraded. Each day you can make steady improvements to the living conditions. Shelters are sort of a work in progress. You need to first get yourself protected from the wind, rain, sun and other elements. This doesn’t have to be a palace, only large enough for you and anyone else with you. In fact, the smaller the better at times.

Once you’ve chosen your site clear out any debris and insects that might be inside. Then begin gathering as much insulating material as possible. Leaves work very well, just gather them up and pack them inside, the more the better. If you need frontal protections begin stacking limbs and weaving them across the front of the cave opening. Remember the more leaves you can pack inside, the more insulation you’ll have. It is also way more comfortable to sleep on a pile of leaves than on the cold stone floor of the cave. Even wet leaves will provide insulation value so you don’t have to be too picky, just pack them inside.

Here are some things you can use as a shelter:




branches and limbs
Specific examples and diagrams can be found in the Field Manual (FM) 21-76 U. S. Army Survival Manual. The manual is available for download in PDF at:

Shelters can vary a great deal and you can find a way to protect yourself in any environment, you are limited only by your imagination and time. The important thing is to get yourself insulated and protected from the elements as quickly as possible. Once the initial shelter is made, you should continue to improve your shelter as time and materials provide.

Once you have your shelter structure built it is time to work on those improvements. Remember, temperatures can tend to drop even in the peak summer seasons. Altitude, wind speed, cloud cover, precipitation can all contribute to loss of heat and loss of heat can lead to hyperthermia. On the opposite side of the scale, is hypothermia. Neither of these are good.
To combat loss of heat, insulate, insulate, insulate. Even wet leaves can provide insulation. In the next few articles we will look at some camp improvements and pioneering projects to make life in the backwoods more comfortable. Remember I bad day outdoors beats a good day inside.