Building a good survival shelter is one of the most important primitive skills there are. If you are going camping in the cold and wet without any gear then you need to know how to stay alive and comfortable. I have slept in enough cold, wet shelters to figure out how to build some warm, dry ones.
Learning to build good shelters completely transformed my experience of primitive camping. For years it seemed that I was miserable every time I went out, just too stubborn to give up. So it was a real thrill the first time I slept warm and cozy without even a blanket. The more that I learned to think for myself and design shelters to meet the conditions at hand, the better my camping experiences became.
The type of shelter you build, and the location you choose for it, will vary tremendously depending on the time, the place, and your goals. Instead of teaching you solely “shelters,” I want to teach you about the separate elements of shelter. Those elements are: shingling, fire, insulation, and air-proofing. In a nutshell, shingles help to keep you dry. Fire is used directly and indirectly in many different ways for heating. Insulation is used to trap the available heat inside, and air-proofing is like weather-stripping to stop cold drafts of air. Each of these elements come into consideration in every shelter you build. Once you understand each of these elements of shelter then you can assemble them into the appropriate shelters to meet the needs of your specific times, places, and goals. You will be able to predict how a new structure will perform, based on the elements of shelter, even though you’ve never built one quite like it before. Text and photos adapted from Participating in Nature: Wilderness Survival and Primitive Living Skills, available from