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Survival Shelter Types: 16 Different Survival Shelters A Comprehensive Guide




Survival Shelter Types


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When it comes to surviving in the great outdoors, one of the most important skills you can have is knowing how to create a shelter and survival shelter types. A well-built shelter can be the difference between life and death, especially in harsh weather conditions or when faced with extreme temperatures.

In this article, we’ll explore 16 different survival shelters that you can construct, each with its unique benefits and suited for different environments.

Understanding the various types of survival shelters can dramatically increase your chances of making it through a challenging situation. From simple and quick-to-build options, like a tarp shelter, to more complex and durable structures, like a mud hut, knowing which shelter to create will depend on the specific circumstances you find yourself in. Regardless of the scenario, having this valuable knowledge in your skillset can be a game-changer.

As we delve into these 16 different survival shelters, think about the environments you may encounter and the resources available in each situation.

Remember that your ultimate goal is to protect yourself from the elements, maintain your body temperature, and get some rest while preserving your energy.

By the end of this article, you will have a better understanding of the shelter options available and be better prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws your way.

Survival Shelter Fundamentals

Understanding Survival Shelters

Survival shelters are structures designed to provide temporary protection from harsh weather conditions and other environmental hazards. They are crucial in emergencies or when you are stranded in the wilderness.

These shelters can be constructed using various techniques and materials, such as natural resources or man-made items. To build an effective survival shelter, you need to understand the basic principles, acquire essential skills, and have a clear understanding of the available resources.

Selecting the Right Location

Choosing the right location for your survival shelter is vital. Consider the following factors when selecting a location:

  • Dry and flat: Avoid low-lying areas or those near water, as they may flood.
  • Safety: Stay away from cliffs, falling rocks, or dead limbs that could fall on your shelter.
  • Visibility: Depending on your situation, you may want your shelter to be easily visible for rescue or well hidden for concealment.
  • Fire-friendly: Make sure there is a suitable area nearby for a fire, as it is essential for warmth, cooking, and signaling.

Shelter Materials and Resources

Survival Shelter Types

When building a survival shelter, use available materials that offer the most insulation and protection. Here are key materials and techniques to consider:

  • Natural resources: While constructing shelters, utilize materials like leaves, branches, and snow. For example, debris shelters can be made by piling leaves and branches to create a warm and insulated shelter.
  • Man-made items: Items like tarps or emergency blankets are lightweight and can provide a waterproof barrier. With a quality survival tarp, it is possible to create a sturdy and effective shelter in various environments.
  • Insulation: Use materials like leaves, grass, or clothing for insulation to keep you warm and reduce heat loss.
  • Ventilation: Keep in mind proper ventilation when building your shelter to avoid suffocation or carbon monoxide poisoning.

By gaining a good understanding of survival shelters, selecting the right location, and recognizing available materials and resources, you can increase your chances of staying safe and comfortable in the wilderness or during an emergency.

Shelter Types for Different Climates

In this section, you will learn about different types of shelters suitable for various climates. We will cover forest and woodland shelters, desert survival shelters, snow and cold weather shelters, and jungle and tropical shelters.

Forest and Woodland Shelters

In forest and woodland environments, resources such as branches, leaves, and other vegetation are readily available. A popular shelter in this environment is the lean-to shelter, which comprises a sloping roof made of branches and covered with leaves or other debris for insulation and protection from the elements.

Another option is tarp shelters, which involve using a tarp and paracord to create a waterproof and wind-resistant covering. Tree pit shelters are also an option, taking advantage of natural tree trunk depressions to provide an element of concealment while creating a shelter with available materials found in the area. Here is a comprehensive list of 25 different types of survival shelters and how to build them.

Desert Survival Shelters

Building a shelter in the desert can be challenging due to the lack of resources and extreme heat exposure. A primary goal for a desert survival shelter is to provide shade and help maintain a cooler temperature inside.

desert tarp shelter or a sand dune shelter can be effective ways to create shade and protect yourself from the harsh sun. Building a shelter in a desert demands creativity and resourcefulness, but it is still possible with the right approach.

Survival Shelter Types

Snow and Cold Weather Shelters

In snowy and cold environments, it is vital to have a shelter that can withstand freezing temperatures and strong winds. A snow cave or an igloo can be effective options in such conditions, as they help preserve body heat and provide a stable structure to protect you from the elements.

Building these shelters requires proper technique and knowledge, as well as the appropriate use of available resources. To learn more about building snow and cold weather shelter.

Jungle and Tropical Shelters

The jungle and tropical climates present a unique challenge when it comes to building a survival shelter due to the high humidity and potential for heavy rainfall. In these environments, consider constructing an elevated shelter, such as a platform shelter or a hammock shelter, which can help keep you off the damp ground and away from insects, snakes, and other potential dangers.

Ensuring proper ventilation is also crucial in jungle and tropical shelters to prevent condensation buildup and maintain comfort. Find more ideas on jungle and tropical shelters here.

Natural and Improvised Shelters

Utilizing Natural Structures

When you find yourself in a wilderness survival situation, the first step is to assess your surroundings for natural shelter options. A good natural shelter can save you time and energy, providing protection from the elements with minimal effort.

One common natural structure to consider is a cave. Caves offer protection from wind and rain, and can sometimes even provide warmth from the earth. However, always ensure the cave is unoccupied by animals, and be cautious of potential flash floods in the area.

Another option is a tree root shelter, formed where large tree roots create a hollow space beneath the tree. Tree root shelters provide cover from rain, wind, and even snow, but be cautious of potential falling branches and always choose a healthy, stable tree. Additionally, utilizing a rock shelter formed by overhanging rocks or boulders can provide sufficient protection from the elements.

Creating Makeshift Shelters with Available Materials

In cases where natural structures are not readily available, you can create your own improvised shelter with the help of materials found in the wilderness. Debris and natural materials can often be combined to create a safe and protected space.

Here is a list of materials and techniques to consider:

  • Debris: Fallen branches, leaves, and other materials can be used to create a debris hut. First, create a ridgepole by leaning a long branch against a tree or boulder. Then, add additional branches at an angle to create a support framework, and cover the entire structure with gathered debris. This type of shelter is relatively simple to build and provides insulation from the cold ground.
  • Natural materials: If available, use natural materials such as bark, moss, and large leaves to create a more weather-resistant shelter. These materials can be added as layers on top of debris or used to create a more solid structure like a lean-to.
  • Snow and Ice: In the snowy wilderness, you can build snow shelters such as igloos or snow caves, which provide insulation and protection from wind and freezing temperatures. Be sure to build a proper entrance and ventilation holes to maintain air circulation within the shelter.

Do your best to utilize the materials around you and stay resourceful. Remember, the primary goal is to protect yourself from the elements while conserving energy and resources.

Tarp-Based Shelters

Tarp-based shelters are versatile, lightweight, and easy to construct, making them ideal for various survival situations. This section covers four popular tarp shelter styles: A-Frame Tarp Shelter, Lean-To Tarp Structure, Wedge Tarp and Tarp Wing Configurations, and Tarp Tipi and Tarp Burrito Styles.

Survival Shelter Types

A-Frame Tarp Shelter

The A-Frame Tarp Shelter is a classic and straightforward design that provides efficient protection from rain, wind, and sunlight. To build an A-Frame shelter, start by securing a ridgeline—a tight rope or cord—between two supports, such as trees or trekking poles.

Then, drape your tarp over the ridgeline, making sure its edges are at an even length on each side. Finally, stake the tarp corners to the ground at a 45-degree angle, maintaining tension for increased stability. The A-Frame shelter is suitable for various terrains and can accommodate one or multiple persons depending on the tarp size.

Lean-To Tarp Structure

Lean-To Tarp Structure is perfect for camping in mild weather and offers a great vantage point for observing your surroundings.

To construct a Lean-To, position the ridgeline at a comfortable height and angle it downwards to one side to offer the desired wind protection. Position your tarp over the ridgeline, securing the highest corner to a tree or other vertical support.

Stake the remaining corners to the ground at your preferred angle. This simple shelter design allows you to maximize ventilation while providing ample protection from the elements. Check out this Lean-To Tarp Structure for more inspiration.

Wedge Tarp and Tarp Wing Configurations

Wedge Tarp and Tarp Wing Configurations are well-suited for windy and stormy conditions. The Wedge Tarp is similar to the Lean-To, with the addition of staking down the “open” side of the tarp, creating a compact, wind-resistant design.

Tarp Wing Configurations involve elevating one or two sides of the tarp for increased visibility, air flow, and versatility. These shelters provide an optimal balance of protection and airflow, making them ideal for varying weather conditions. Explore these tarp shelter configurations to discover more ideas.

Tarp Tipi and Tarp Burrito Styles

Tarp Tipi and Tarp Burrito Styles are advanced shelter options that offer increased warmth and weather protection in colder or harsher environments. To build a Tarp Tipi, secure a central support, such as a long pole, and drape your tarp around it.

Fasten the corners and edges together before staking down, creating a conical structure. This design, inspired by traditional tipis, offers exceptional wind resistance and can be heated by using a portable stove inside.

The Tarp Burrito is another excellent option for harsher conditions, involving wrapping your tarp completely around your sleeping area, maintaining tension for sturdiness, and sealing the edges with stakes, weights, or rocks. This encased style provides a cozy, insulated environment and prevents drafts and moisture infiltration.

Survival Shelter Types

Weather and Element Protection

Insulation Techniques

Proper insulation is critical for surviving in extreme weather conditions. One common technique is using natural materials, such as leaves or grass, to create a thick layer of insulation between you and the cold ground. This can be achieved by stuffing leaves into the walls of your shelter or creating a thick layer of grass under your sleeping area. In colder climates, snow can be used effectively to add insulation to shelters like snow caves and igloos.

Waterproofing and Rain Coverage

Protecting yourself from rain and keeping your shelter waterproof is important to maintain a comfortable and safe environment. Choose materials that are water-resistant, such as large leaves, tree bark, or tarps. When constructing your shelter, make sure to have a slanted roof or tarp shelter setup to allow water to run off during rainfall. Another tip is to dig a trench around your shelter to redirect rainwater away from your space.

Wind Sturdiness and Ventilation

A survival shelter should be strong enough to withstand strong winds while providing adequate ventilation. Design your shelter with a low profile and a wind-blocking entrance, such as the debris shelter or the wickiup shelter. To ensure proper ventilation, make air holes or incorporate an adjustable entrance that can be opened or closed depending on the wind direction. This will help regulate airflow and prevent dangerous build-up of smoke, carbon monoxide, or other harmful gases.

Heat Retention and Cold Prevention

Retaining heat and preventing the cold from entering your shelter is crucial in survival situations. Insulate your shelter with warm bedding materials such as thick grass, leaves, or pine needles, and build it small enough to ensure your body heat quickly warms up the space.

In colder environments, shelters like igloos and snow caves are specifically designed to retain heat and protect from harsh elements. In these cases, the combination of proper insulation and passive ventilation will help create a comfortable and safe refuge from the elements.

Construction Techniques and Tools

When constructing a survival shelter, you need to use various techniques and tools to ensure its durability and effectiveness. In this section, we’ll cover how to use knots and lashing for shelter building, as well as common tools like knives and machetes.

Knots and Lashing for Shelter Building

Knots and lashing are essential skills to have when building a shelter, as they help secure and stabilize the structure. Some common knots you should learn for shelter building include the square knotoverhand knot, and clove hitch.

  • Square Knot: This knot is ideal for joining two ropes or cords of the same diameter. To tie a square knot, hold one end of each rope and cross the left rope over the right. Then, cross the right rope over the left and pull tight. Make sure both parts of the knot are snug to ensure the knot holds well.
  • Overhand Knot: Useful for creating loops or securing the ends of a rope, the overhand knot is one of the most basic knots to learn. To tie an overhand knot, make a loop with the rope, then pass the working end of the rope through the loop and pull tight.
  • Clove Hitch: Used for securing a rope to a pole or branch, the clove hitch is a versatile knot for shelter construction. To tie a clove hitch, wrap the rope around the pole, create a second loop by wrapping it around again, then tuck the working end of the rope under the second loop and pull tight.

Knowing how to tie these knots is crucial for the stability of your shelter. Practice these knots regularly and become proficient in their use, as they’ll come in handy during your shelter construction.

Using Tools like Knives and Machetes

survival knife and a machete are essential tools for constructing your survival shelter. They help you with cutting and processing materials, as well as preparing your site.

  • Survival Knife: A survival knife is a versatile tool that can help you cut rope, trim branches, and perform various other tasks in shelter construction. Make sure to keep your knife sharp and maintain it properly to ensure it’s always ready for use.
  • Machete: A machete can be useful for clearing vegetation and cutting small trees or branches to gather materials for your shelter. The long blade makes it easier to chop through dense foliage, making it an invaluable tool for shelter building in the wilderness.

When using these tools, always practice safety and proper techniques to avoid accidents. Keep your tools in good condition to ensure their effectiveness and prolong their lifespan.

Building a survival shelter is a critical skill in the outdoors. By mastering the use of knots, lashing, and essential tools like survival knives and machetes, you’ll be better equipped to survive in challenging situations.

Survival and Emergencies

Short-Term vs Long-Term Survival Shelters

In emergency situations, the type of shelter you need depends on the duration of the survival situation. There are two basic types of survival shelters: short-term and long-term.

Short-term survival shelters are designed for temporary use, often providing protection for a few hours or days. Examples of this type of shelter include the A-frame debris hut and the tree pit shelter. These shelters are typically easy to construct using materials found in the local environment.

They provide immediate protection from extreme weather, like heavy rain, snow, or wind. However, they may not offer the full range of functions needed for long-term survival.

Long-term survival shelters, on the other hand, are designed to withstand extended periods of use. These shelters often require more time, effort, and planning to construct, but provide more stable and durable protection. Examples include the round lodge and the survival tarp.

Immediate Shelter in Severe Weather

Survival Shelter Types

During severe weather conditions, such as storms, heavy snow, or extreme heat, protecting yourself from the elements becomes crucial to avoid life-threatening situations like hypothermia or heat stroke. Having temporary shelter solutions readily available will increase your chances of survival. One of the quickest options is to use the best survival tarp and create a makeshift shelter in minutes.

Another option to secure immediate shelter is to look for natural formations, like caves or rock overhangs. These natural features can provide adequate protection from severe weather conditions with minimal effort.

Protection from Wild Animals and Extreme Conditions

One of the primary purposes of any survival shelter is to offer protection against wild animals and extreme conditions. In addition to creating a physical barrier against the elements, your shelter choice should also consider potential threats from wild animals.

When constructing your shelter, consider the following factors:

  1. Location: Choose a site that’s not in the immediate path of known animal trails or feeding areas.
  2. Elevation: If possible, build your shelter off the ground to deter predators and insects.
  3. Visibility: Keep the entrance visible from a distance, allowing you to monitor your surroundings and spot potential threats.
  4. Materials: Utilize naturally available materials like branches, stones, and other solid objects that can withstand the weight of snow or debris.

By keeping these factors in mind, you can create a survival shelter that offers effective protection against the threats posed by wild animals and extreme conditions.

Advanced Shelter Designs

In this section, we will discuss some advanced shelter designs that cater to specialized structures for specific needs. These designs are crafted to address various environments and situations, ensuring your safety and protection while outdoors.

Specialized Structures for Specific Needs

  • Debris Shelter: A popular and versatile design, the debris shelter is commonly constructed in an A-frame shape, using natural debris like foliage and dead leaves for insulation.
  • Bough Bed: Ideal for elevating yourself from cold or damp ground, a bough bed is made by placing branches and leaves on the ground to create a comfortable sleeping platform.
  • Quinzhee: This snow shelter is created by hollowing out a pile of snow, and it provides excellent insulation in frigid environments.
  • Round Lodge: A hybrid design influenced by tipis and wicki-ups, the round lodge effectively blocks wind, rain, cold, and sun with its conical structure and solid doorway.
  • Ramada: Suited for hot and arid climates, a ramada is an open-sided structure with a roof made of natural materials, providing shade and coolness.
  • Jungle Shelter: Constructed from available resources in the jungle, these shelters are designed to keep you off the ground and protect you from rain, insects, and other hazards.
  • Igloo Shelter: A well-known shelter design made of snow blocks, it provides excellent insulation and protection in arctic and snowy conditions.
  • Juniper Tree Shelter: Leveraging the dense foliage of juniper trees, these shelters provide natural protection from the elements and camouflage.
  • Wickiup Shelter: Similar to the round lodge, a wickiup shelter is conical and made from branches and sticks, with the added benefit of being easy to construct.
  • Tree Pit Shelter: By digging a pit at the base of a tree and positioning a lean-to with branches, you create a shelter that takes advantage of the tree’s insulation and stability.
  • Bushcraft Shelter: Emphasizing self-reliance, these shelters are built using only available natural resources and simple hand tools, such as a knife and cord.

Remember, always pay attention to the environment, resources, and climate when selecting or constructing your survival shelter. Whether it’s a debris shelter in a temperate forest or an igloo in the Arctic, your choice of shelter can make a significant difference in your chance of survival.

Resource Management

When building a survival shelter, it’s crucial to efficiently manage your resources, such as water, food, paracord, and wood. By doing so, you ensure that your shelter offers maximum protection and comfort while conserving valuable supplies.

Water is vital for survival, so when selecting the location for your shelter, try finding a spot near a reliable water source. In addition to hydration, water can be used for sanitation and cooking. To minimize the risk of waterborne diseases, always purify your water by boiling, using a filter, or purifying tablets.

As for food, make sure to secure a safe storage area within your shelter. This reduces the risk of attracting wildlife or losing supplies to spoilage. Additionally, learn how to identify local edible plants and sources of protein, such as insects or small game, to supplement your stored food.

Utilizing paracord effectively is essential for numerous survival shelter types. As a versatile and durable material, it can serve as support for various structures and assist in securing essential resources. Keep in mind that paracord has a multitude of applications beyond shelter building, such as making snares, fashioning tools, or even constructing rescue signals.

When it comes to wood, this resource is vital for various shelter constructions, providing structural support, insulation, and fuel for fires. Harvest wood responsibly, using dead or fallen trees whenever possible to minimize the impact on your surroundings.

Keep different types of wood in mind, as hardwoods provide better stability and durability, while softwoods ignite faster for fires.

In conclusion, effectively managing resources like water, food, paracord, and wood will enhance your survival shelter’s effectiveness and longevity. By carefully selecting your location, securing supplies, and utilizing versatile materials like paracord, you improve your chances of thriving in harsh conditions.

Survival Shelter Types

Preparing and Practicing Skills

Developing Essential Shelter-Building Skills

To be prepared for wilderness survival, it’s crucial to develop essential shelter-building skills. Start by familiarizing yourself with different types of survival shelters, such as the lean-to and debris hut. Understand the materials needed, and learn how to construct these shelters in various environments.

  • Weather resistance: Your shelter must protect you from rain, snow, and wind. Knowing how to create an effective barrier using natural materials such as branches, leaves, and foliage is essential.
  • Insulation: Understanding how to insulate your shelter will keep you warm in cold temperatures and cool in hot climates. The proper use of debris and ground insulation can make a crucial difference.
  • Stability: Practice creating stable shelters that can withstand the elements without collapsing or breaking apart. Learn to use natural anchors, like trees and rocks, to support your shelter structure.

Regular Practice and Skill Enhancement

Becoming proficient at building survival shelters requires regular practice. While reading and researching can help, nothing compares to hands-on experience. You must practice building different shelter variations, considering factors such as available materials, environmental conditions, and potential hazards.

  • Creation timelines: Challenge yourself by setting time limits for shelter construction. By developing a sense of urgency, you’ll be better prepared for real-life emergencies.
  • Using different materials: Experiment with a variety of natural materials while practicing your shelter-building skills. This flexibility will be invaluable in adapting to different environments.
  • Adapting to environments: Familiarize yourself with the unique challenges and resources of various ecosystems, such as forests, deserts, or mountain regions. Understanding your surroundings will make it easier to construct the most effective shelter.

By consistently practicing and honing your skills, you’ll develop the confidence and expertise to face any wilderness survival situation. Your preparedness and mastery will ensure that you can construct a safe and secure shelter when it matters most.

Contextual Considerations for Shelters

Adapting to the Environment’s Ecosystem

When selecting a location and type of shelter, it is essential to consider the ecosystem you are in. Whether you are near a body of water, in the mountains, close to cliffs, or in a dry and flat area, each ecosystem has unique features that must be taken into account.

For instance, being near a body of water can provide easy access to water for drinking and hygiene but may also increase the risk of flooding. Take the time to assess your surroundings and choose a shelter type that best fits the environment.

Some examples of shelters to consider in various ecosystems include:

  • Round Lodge: This type of shelter is suitable for flat terrains with ample natural materials for building. It can provide a comfortable living space with a strong framework. Emergency UNHCR Shelter Standard suggests that shelter solutions should be adapted to the geographical context and climate.
  • Lean-To Shelter: This shelter type is versatile and can be built easily with minimal materials. It is appropriate for forested environments where natural resources such as branches and foliage are available.

Understanding the Impact of Terrain

Terrain plays a crucial role in shaping your shelter’s construction and design. Not only will the type of terrain dictate the materials and tools available, but it will also have a significant impact on your shelter’s performance and longevity. Key factors to consider include the slope of the land and the overall stability of the ground. To ensure your shelter operates efficiently and safely, the Shelter Design Criteria by UNHCR suggests addressing hazard risks, safety, and shelter lifespan based on the terrain.

   Terrain Type Example Shelters 

    Flat Round Lodge, A-Frame  

  Mountainous Snow Cave, Tarp Shelter  

  Maximizing Safety and Usability

Finally, it is important to consider the safety and usability of your shelter. This includes elements such as the shelter’s structure, ventilation, thermal comfort, privacy, and security. CDC operational considerations highlight the importance of ensuring adequate spacing and cleanliness practices within your shelter. Additionally, paying attention to the local climate and cultural practices can improve the overall usability and safety of your shelter.

For example, in cold environments, you should focus on insulation and maximizing heat retention. In hot climates, you should prioritize ventilation and shade. Keep in mind the following points to maximize safety and usability:

  • Choose appropriate shelter types for your environment.
  • Be mindful of the shelter’s location (proximity to hazards, water sources, etc.).
  • Consider cultural sensitivities and local practices for comfort and acceptance.


There are many different types of survival shelters available for various situations and environments. By understanding the basics of constructing these shelters, you can increase your chances of survival when faced with unexpected emergencies in the wilderness.

In summary, your choice of survival shelter should be based on the resources available, your environment, and your specific needs. A few key points to remember include:

  • Always prioritize the location of your shelter. Ensure it provides protection against the elements and potential hazards such as flooding or wildlife.
  • Insulating your shelter is crucial for maintaining a comfortable temperature, regardless of the weather conditions.
  • Familiarize yourself with the materials in your surroundings and know how to use them effectively to build a sturdy shelter.

Here’s a quick overview of the 16 discussed survival shelters:

  1. Lean-to Shelter
  2. Debris Shelter
  3. Tree Pit Shelter
  4. Snow Cave
  5. Tarp Shelter
  6. Quinzhee
  7. A-Frame Shelter
  8. Wickiup
  9. Bough Shelter
  10. Dugout Shelter
  11. Bivouac
  12. Igloo
  13. Sod House
  14. Conical Lodge
  15. Roundhouse
  16. Trench Shelter

Keep in mind that building a wilderness shelter may be a temporary solution, but it is vital for ensuring your safety. By practicing and mastering the skills for constructing these shelters, you’ll be better equipped for any situation that may come your way.

In the end, being confident, knowledgeable, and adaptive in your shelter-building abilities can make all the difference in your wilderness survival experience.

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