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CHAPTER 5 - SHELTERS
A shelter can protect you from the sun, insects,
wind, rain, snow, hot or cold temperatures, and enemy observation. It can give
you a feeling of well-being. It can help you maintain your will to survive.
In some areas, your need for shelter may take
precedence over your need for food and possibly even your need for water. For
example, prolonged exposure to cold can cause excessive fatigue and weakness
(exhaustion). An exhausted person may develop a "passive" outlook,
thereby losing the will to survive.
The most common error in making a shelter is to
make it too large. A shelter must be large enough to protect you. It must also
be small enough to contain your body heat, especially in cold climates.
When you are in a survival situation and realize
that shelter is a high priority, start looking for shelter as soon as possible.
As you do so, remember what you will need at the site. Two requisites are--
- It must contain material to make the type of
shelter you need.
- It must be large enough and level enough for
you to lie down comfortably.
When you consider these requisites, however, you
cannot ignore your tactical situation or your safety. You must also consider
whether the site--
- Provides concealment from enemy observation.
- Has camouflaged escape routes.
- Is suitable for signaling, if necessary.
- Provides protection against wild animals and
rocks and dead trees that might fall.
- Is free from insects, reptiles, and poisonous
You must also remember the problems that could
arise in your environment. For instance--
- Avoid flash flood areas in foothills.
- Avoid avalanche or rockslide areas in
- Avoid sites near bodies of water that are
below the high water mark.
In some areas, the season of the year has a
strong bearing on the site you select. Ideal sites for a shelter differ in
winter and summer. During cold winter months you will want a site that will
protect you from the cold and wind, but will have a source of fuel and water.
During summer months in the same area you will want a source of water, but you
will want the site to be almost insect free.
When considering shelter site selection, use the
word BLISS as a guide.
B - Blend in with the surroundings.
L - Low silhouette.
I - Irregular shape.
S - Small.
S - Secluded location.
When looking for a shelter site, keep in mind the
type of shelter (protection) you need. However, you must also consider--
- How much time and effort you need to build the
- If the shelter will adequately protect you
from the elements (sun, wind, rain, snow).
- If you have the tools to build it. If not, can
you make improvised tools?
- If you have the type and amount of materials
needed to build it.
To answer these questions, you need to know how
to make various types of shelters and what materials you need to make them.
It takes only a short time and minimal equipment
to build this lean-to (Figure 5-1). You need a poncho, 2
to 3 meters of rope or parachute suspension line, three stakes about 30
centimeters long, and two trees or two poles 2 to 3 meters apart. Before
selecting the trees you will use or the location of your poles, check the wind
direction. Ensure that the back of your lean-to will be into the wind.
To make the lean-to--
- Tie off the hood of the poncho. Pull the
drawstring tight, roll the hood longways, fold it into thirds, and tie it
off with the drawstring.
- Cut the rope in half. On one long side of the
poncho, tie half of the rope to the corner grommet. Tie the other half to
the other corner grommet.
- Attach a drip stick (about a 10-centimeter
stick) to each rope about 2.5 centimeters from the grommet. These drip
sticks will keep rainwater from running down the ropes into the lean-to.
Tying strings (about 10 centimeters long) to each grommet along the poncho's
top edge will allow the water to run to and down the line without dripping
into the shelter.
- Tie the ropes about waist high on the trees
(uprights). Use a round turn and two half hitches with a quick-release knot.
- Spread the poncho and
anchor it to the ground, putting sharpened sticks through the grommets and
into the ground.
If you plan to use the lean-to for more than one
night, or you expect rain, make a center support for the lean-to. Make this
support with a line. Attach one end of the line to the poncho hood and the other
end to an overhanging branch. Make sure there is no slack in the line.
Another method is to place a stick upright under
the center of the lean-to. This method, however, will restrict your space and
movements in the shelter.
For additional protection from wind and rain,
place some brush, your rucksack, or other equipment at the sides of the lean-to.
To reduce heat loss to the ground, place some
type of insulating material, such as leaves or pine needles, inside your
Note: When at rest, you lose as much as 80 percent
of your body heat to the ground.
To increase your security from enemy observation,
lower the lean-to's silhouette by making two changes. First, secure the support
lines to the trees at knee height (not at waist height) using two knee-high
sticks in the two center grommets (sides of lean-to). Second, angle the poncho
to the ground, securing it with sharpened sticks, as
This tent (Figure 5-2)
provides a low silhouette. It also protects you from the elements on two sides.
It has, however, less usable space and observation area than a lean-to,
decreasing your reaction time to enemy detection. To make this tent, you need a
poncho, two 1.5- to 2.5-meter ropes, six sharpened sticks about 30 centimeters
long, and two trees 2 to 3 meters apart.
To make the tent--
- Tie off the poncho hood in the same way as the
- Tie a 1.5- to 2.5-meter rope to the center
grommet on each side of the poncho.
- Tie the other ends of these ropes at about
knee height to two trees 2 to 3 meters apart and stretch the poncho tight.
- Draw one side of the poncho tight and secure
it to the ground pushing sharpened sticks through the grommets.
- Follow the same procedure on the other side.
If you need a center support, use the same
methods as for the poncho lean-to. Another center support is an A-frame set
outside but over the center of the tent (Figure 5-3). Use
two 90- to 120-centimeter-long sticks, one with a forked end, to form the
A-frame. Tie the hood's drawstring to the A-frame to support the center of the
Three-Pole Parachute Tepee
If you have a parachute and three poles and the
tactical situation allows, make a parachute tepee. It is easy and takes very
little time to make this tepee. It provides protection from the elements and can
act as a signaling device by enhancing a small amount of light from a fire or
candle. It is large enough to hold several people and their equipment and to
allow sleeping, cooking, and storing firewood.
You can make this tepee using parts of or a whole
personnel main or reserve parachute canopy. If using a standard personnel
parachute, you need three poles 3.5 to 4.5 meters long and about 5 centimeters
To make this tepee (Figure 5-4)--
- Lay the poles on the ground and lash them
together at one end.
- Stand the framework up and spread the poles to
form a tripod.
- For more support, place additional poles
against the tripod. Five or six additional poles work best, but do not lash
them to the tripod.
- Determine the wind direction and locate the
entrance 90 degrees or more from the mean wind direction.
- Lay out the parachute on the
"backside" of the tripod and locate the bridle loop (nylon web
loop) at the top (apex) of the canopy.
- Place the bridle loop over the top of a
free-standing pole. Then place the pole back up against the tripod so that
the canopy's apex is at the same height as the lashing on the three poles.
- Wrap the canopy around one side of the tripod.
The canopy should be of double thickness, as you are wrapping an entire
parachute. You need only wrap half of the tripod, as the remainder of the
canopy will encircle the tripod in the opposite direction.
- Construct the entrance by wrapping the folded
edges of the canopy around two free-standing poles. You can then place the
poles side by side to close the tepee's entrance.
- Place all extra canopy underneath the tepee
poles and inside to create a floor for the shelter.
- Leave a 30- to 50-centimeter opening at the
top for ventilation if you intend to have a fire inside the tepee.
One-Pole Parachute Tepee
You need a 14-gore section (normally) of canopy,
stakes, a stout center pole, and inner core and needle to construct this tepee.
You cut the suspension lines except for 40- to 45-centimeter lengths at the
canopy's lower lateral band.
To make this tepee (Figure 5-5)--
- Select a shelter site and scribe a circle
about 4 meters in diameter on the ground.
- Stake the parachute material to the ground
using the lines remaining at the lower lateral band.
- After deciding where to place the shelter
door, emplace a stake and tie the first line (from the lower lateral band)
securely to it.
- Stretch the parachute material taut to the
next line, emplace a stake on the scribed line, and tie the line to it.
- Continue the staking process until you have
tied all the lines.
- Loosely attach the top of the parachute
material to the center pole with a suspension line you previously cut and,
through trial and error, determine the point at which the parachute material
will be pulled tight once the center pole is upright.
- Then securely attach the material to the pole.
- Using a suspension line (or inner core), sew
the end gores together leaving 1 or 1.2 meters for a door.
No-Pole Parachute Tepee
You use the same materials, except for the center
pole, as for the one-pole parachute tepee.
To make this tepee (Figure 5-6)--
- Tie a line to the top of parachute material
with a previously cut suspension line.
- Throw the line over a tree limb, and tie it to
the tree trunk.
- Starting at the opposite side from the door,
emplace a stake on the scribed 3.5- to 4.3-meter circle.
- Tie the first line on the lower lateral band.
- Continue emplacing the stakes and tying the
lines to them.
- After staking down the material, unfasten the
line tied to the tree trunk, tighten the tepee material by pulling on this
line, and tie it securely to the tree trunk.
A one-man shelter you can easily make using a
parachute requires a tree and three poles. One pole should be about 4.5 meters
long and the other two about 3 meters long.
To make this shelter (Figure
- Secure the 4.5-meter pole to the tree at about
- Lay the two 3-meter poles on the ground on
either side of and in the same direction as the 4.5-meter pole.
- Lay the folded canopy over the 4.5 meter pole
so that about the same amount of material hangs on both sides.
- Tuck the excess material under the 3-meter
poles, and spread it on the ground inside to serve as a floor.
- Stake down or put a spreader between the two
3-meter poles at the shelter's entrance so they will not slide inward.
- Use any excess material to cover the entrance.
The parachute cloth makes this shelter wind
resistant, and the shelter is small enough that it is easily warmed. A candle,
used carefully, can keep the inside temperature comfortable. This shelter is
unsatisfactory, however, when snow is falling as even a light snowfall will cave
You can make a hammock using 6 to 8 gores of
parachute canopy and two trees about 4.5 meters apart (Figure
If you are in a wooded area and have enough
natural materials, you can make a field-expedient lean-to (Figure
5-9) without the aid of tools or with only a knife. It takes longer to make
this type of shelter than it does to make other types, but it will protect you
from the elements.
You will need two trees (or upright poles) about
2 meters apart; one pole about 2 meters long and 2.5 centimeters in diameter;
five to eight poles about 3 meters long and 2.5 centimeters in diameter for
beams; cord or vines for securing the horizontal support to the trees; and other
poles, saplings, or vines to crisscross the beams.
To make this lean-to--
- Tie the 2-meter pole to the two trees at waist
to chest height. This is the horizontal support. If a standing tree is not
available, construct a biped using Y-shaped sticks or two tripods.
- Place one end of the beams (3-meter poles) on
one side of the horizontal support. As with all lean-to type shelters, be
sure to place the lean-to's backside into the wind.
- Crisscross saplings or vines on the beams.
- Cover the framework with brush, leaves, pine
needles, or grass, starting at the bottom and working your way up like
- Place straw, leaves, pine needles, or grass
inside the shelter for bedding.
In cold weather, add to your lean-to's comfort by
building a fire reflector wall (Figure 5-9). Drive four
1.5-meter-long stakes into the ground to support the wall. Stack green logs on
top of one another between the support stakes. Form two rows of stacked logs to
create an inner space within the wall that you can fill with dirt. This action
not only strengthens the wall but makes it more heat reflective. Bind the top of
the support stakes so that the green logs and dirt will stay in place.
With just a little more effort you can have a
drying rack. Cut a few 2-centimeter-diameter poles (length depends on the
distance between the lean-to's horizontal support and the top of the fire
reflector wall). Lay one end of the poles on the lean-to support and the other
end on top of the reflector wall. Place and tie into place smaller sticks across
these poles. You now have a place to dry clothes, meat, or fish.
In a marsh or swamp, or any area with standing
water or continually wet ground, the swamp bed (Figure 5-10)
keeps you out of the water. When selecting such a site, consider the weather,
wind, tides, and available materials.
To make a swamp bed--
- Look for four trees clustered in a rectangle,
or cut four poles (bamboo is ideal) and drive them firmly into the ground so
they form a rectangle. They should be far enough apart and strong enough to
support your height and weight, to include equipment.
- Cut two poles that span the width of the
rectangle. They, too, must be strong enough to support your weight.
- Secure these two poles to the trees (or
poles). Be sure they are high enough above the ground or water to allow for
tides and high water.
- Cut additional poles that span the rectangle's
length. Lay them across the two side poles, and secure them.
- Cover the top of the bed frame with broad
leaves or grass to form a soft sleeping surface.
- Build a fire pad by laying clay, silt, or mud
on one comer of the swamp bed and allow it to dry.
Another shelter designed to get you above and out
of the water or wet ground uses the same rectangular configuration as the swamp
bed. You very simply lay sticks and branches lengthwise on the inside of the
trees (or poles) until there is enough material to raise the sleeping surface
above the water level.
Do not overlook natural formations that provide
shelter. Examples are caves, rocky crevices, clumps of bushes, small
depressions, large rocks on leeward sides of hills, large trees with low-hanging
limbs, and fallen trees with thick branches. However, when selecting a natural
- Stay away from low ground such as ravines,
narrow valleys, or creek beds. Low areas collect the heavy cold air at night
and are therefore colder than the surrounding high ground. Thick, brushy,
low ground also harbors more insects.
- Check for poisonous snakes, ticks, mites,
scorpions, and stinging ants.
- Look for loose rocks, dead limbs, coconuts, or
other natural growth than could fall on your shelter.
For warmth and ease of construction, this shelter
is one of the best. When shelter is essential to survival, build this shelter.
To make a debris hut (Figure
- Build it by making a tripod with two short
stakes and a long ridgepole or by placing one end of a long ridgepole on top
of a sturdy base.
- Secure the ridgepole (pole running the length
of the shelter) using the tripod method or by anchoring it to a tree at
about waist height.
- Prop large sticks along both sides of the
ridgepole to create a wedge-shaped ribbing effect. Ensure the ribbing is
wide enough to accommodate your body and steep enough to shed moisture.
- Place finer sticks and brush crosswise on the
ribbing. These form a latticework that will keep the insulating material
(grass, pine needles, leaves) from falling through the ribbing into the
- Add light, dry, if possible, soft debris over
the ribbing until the insulating material is at least 1 meter thick--the
thicker the better.
- Place a 30-centimeter layer of insulating
material inside the shelter.
- At the entrance, pile insulating material that
you can drag to you once inside the shelter to close the entrance or build a
- As a final step in constructing this shelter,
add shingling material or branches on top of the debris layer to prevent the
insulating material from blowing away in a storm.
Tree-Pit Snow Shelter
If you are in a cold, snow-covered area where
evergreen trees grow and you have a digging tool, you can make a tree-pit
shelter (Figure 5-12).
To make this shelter--
- Find a tree with bushy branches that provides
- Dig out the snow around the tree trunk until
you reach the depth and diameter you desire, or until you reach the ground.
- Pack the snow around the top and the inside of
the hole to provide support.
- Find and cut other evergreen boughs. Place
them over the top of the pit to give you additional overhead cover. Place
evergreen boughs in the bottom of the pit for insulation.
15 for other arctic or cold weather shelters.
Beach Shade Shelter
This shelter protects you from the sun, wind,
rain, and heat. It is easy to make using natural materials.
To make this shelter (Figure
- Find and collect driftwood or other natural
material to use as support beams and as a digging tool.
- Select a site that is above the high water
- Scrape or dig out a trench running north to
south so that it receives the least amount of sunlight. Make the trench long
and wide enough for you to lie down comfortably.
- Mound soil on three sides of the trench. The
higher the mound, the more space inside the shelter.
- Lay support beams (driftwood or other natural
material) that span the trench on top of the mound to form the framework for
- Enlarge the shelter's entrance by digging out
more sand in front of it.
- Use natural materials such as grass or leaves
to form a bed inside the shelter.
In an arid environment, consider the time,
effort, and material needed to make a shelter. If you have material such as a
poncho, canvas, or a parachute, use it along with such terrain features as rock
outcropping, mounds of sand, or a depression between dunes or rocks to make your
Using rock outcroppings--
- Anchor one end of your poncho (canvas,
parachute, or other material) on the edge of the outcrop using rocks or
- Extend and anchor the other end of the poncho
so it provides the best possible shade.
In a sandy area--
- Build a mound of sand or use the side of a
sand dune for one side of the shelter.
- Anchor one end of the material on top of the
mound using sand or other weights.
- Extend and anchor the other end of the
material so it provides the best possible shade.
Note: If you have enough material, fold it in half
and form a 30-centimeter to 45-centimeter airspace between the two halves.
This airspace will reduce the temperature under the shelter.
A belowground shelter (Figure
5-14) can reduce the midday heat as much as 16 to 22 degrees C (30 to 40
degrees F). Building it, however, requires more time and effort than for other
shelters. Since your physical effort will make you sweat more and increase
dehydration, construct it before the heat of the day.
To make this shelter--
- Find a low spot or depression between dunes or
rocks. If necessary, dig a trench 45 to 60 centimeters deep and long and
wide enough for you to lie in comfortably.
- Pile the sand you take from the trench to form
a mound around three sides.
- On the open end of the trench, dig out more
sand so you can get in and out of your shelter easily.
- Cover the trench with your material.
- Secure the material in place using sand,
rocks, or other weights.
If you have extra material, you can further
decrease the midday temperature in the trench by securing the material 30 to 45
centimeters above the other cover. This layering of the material will reduce the
inside temperature 11 to 22 degrees C (20 to 40 degrees F).
Another type of belowground shade shelter is of
similar construction, except all sides are open to air currents and circulation.
For maximum protection, you need a minimum of two layers of parachute material (Figure
5-15). White is the best color to reflect heat; the innermost layer should
be of darker material.