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Outdoor Survival Pt. 3

- by Leon Harms

Warmth and Shelter

Maintaining ideal body temperature is crucial when dealing with survival in the wilderness. Our bodies operate within a narrow temperature range. You can't get too hot or too cold, or you'll die. Most people cannot survive unprotected from violent weather for more than a few hours.

In most wilderness survival situations the challenge is to keep warm and dry. The importance of a shelter is of course determined by the climate. But if you face a wilderness survival situation in harsh or unpredictable weather, building a survival shelter is an absolute priority.

The type of wilderness shelter you build will depend very much what equipment you carry with you and upon the terrain and climate. But there are general guidelines which can be applied in any wilderness survival situation. Knowing techniques for making simple, good shelters is an important part of your survival skill set.

Shelter site

Make sure your outdoor survival shelter site is as safe as possible and easy to be seen and found by search and rescue teams.

Choose ground that is dry and well drained, reasonably flat and free of rocks. Avoid loose rocks, dead trees or other natural growth than could fall on your shelter. Ideally you should be near water, but too close to water may lead you to trouble by insects.

Rivers present a constant threat to safety. Heavy rainfall in nearby hills can easily create flash floods. Avoid dry riverbeds as flash flooding is a deadly possibility.

Low ground such as ravines and narrow valleys could be damp and collect the heavy cold air at night and are therefore colder than the surrounding high ground.

Basic wilderness survival shelter

If you have added a shelter tarp, an emergency blanket or an extra poncho to your gear, you have a great advantage in building your shelter. But if you lack equipment, local conditions and materials will determine the type of wilderness shelter you build.

Natural cover and Natural wilderness shelters

If you are trapped by rough weather conditions you may have to make do with any wilderness survival shelter that you can find. Getting out of the wind, rain, sun and being able to rest and sleep are vital for survival. . When making a wilderness shelter, try to make life as easy as possible by using any standing or fallen timber, for a wall on at least one side of the shelter.

Look for natural formations that provide shelter. Examples are caves, rocky crevices and large trees with low-hanging limbs, these can often be the fastest cover.

Branches that sweep down to the ground or partly broken boughs can provide shelter.

A log makes a useful wind break if it's at the right angle to the wind. If possible, use a small trunk and dig out a hollow in the ground on the leeward side.

Hollow trees, both standing and fallen hollow trees can be used as shelter.

Any natural hollows will provide protection from the wind. In completely open plains, sit with your back to the wind and pile any stuff behind you as a windbreak.

Caves and overhangs can be quickly improved by the addition of a small rock wall in front of the cave or around the overhang.

Even in an arctic climate you can make use of natural cover. A medium-sized tree may have pockets in the snow beneath a branch. Try digging under any tree with spreading branches in the lee side.

 In the desert, during daytime the sun and the high temperature is a problem and you need shade, but during the night the desert cool rapidly and you need warmth. Radiation from sun heated rocks can be utilized to transfer heat at night and provide warmth.

Shelters made of natural materials

When there is no natural formation available to give shelter you have to build your own survival shelter. Make your shelter just large enough to accommodate you and your companions, especially in cold climates, because you are going to have to heat it.

Be sure to ventilate an enclosed shelter, especially if you intend to build a fire in it. Always block a shelter's entrance, if possible, to keep the heat in and the wind out. Use a rucksack or snow block. Construct a shelter no larger than needed. This will reduce the amount of space to heat. A fatal error in cold weather shelter construction is making the shelter so large that it steals body heat rather than saving it. Keep shelter space small. In survival shelters drainage and ventilation is always important.

Never sleep directly on the ground. Lay down some pine boughs, grass, or other insulating material to keep the ground from absorbing your body heat.

Never fall asleep without turning out your stove or lamp as it will waste valuable fuel and can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide poisoning can result from a fire burning in an unventilated shelter. Carbon monoxide is a great danger. It is colorless and odorless. Any time you have an open flame, it may generate carbon monoxide. Always check your ventilation. Even in a ventilated shelter, incomplete combustion can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Usually, there are no symptoms. Unconsciousness and death can occur without warning. Sometimes, however, pressure at the temples, burning of the eyes, headache, pounding pulse, drowsiness, or nausea may occur. The one characteristic, visible sign of carbon monoxide poisoning is a cherry red coloring in the tissues of the lips, mouth, and inside of the eyelids. Get into fresh air at once if you have any of these symptoms.


Humans need a certain amount of sleep to remain rational. Without sleep, our minds begin to hallucinate and we become unable to make conscious decisions to better our situation. We also need warmth to survive, finding a safe warm spot in which to rest is one of the most crucial survival activities, but is also important that you find a place where you can be found by rescuers. If you are hurt and losing consciousness crawling into a cave or hollow tree may make you impossible to find.

Those who are mentally and physically prepared to survive when they face a survivor challenge are more likely to do so. Be proactive, take a survival skills class.

Suggested types of classes to look for include: standard map and compass training, wilderness survival seminars. Take survival classes that offer field training in the area of the country in which you will be doing wilderness activities.

Pt. 4 The Importance of Water and How to Find It

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