The purpose of a shelter is to create a microclimate around yourself so that you stay as warm and dry as possible. The specific design of your shelter isn’t important. Staying warm and dry is.
The most important part of building a shelter is site selection. In many cases, you can find a place that is already well insulated from the wind and covered from the rain without having to build anything. However, in the event that such a site is unavailable, it’s up to you to make one.
Take the High Ground
You should look for a spot on the ground that is relatively higher than the ground around it. If you pick a low spot to build your shelter, you’ll likely end up in a puddle if it starts raining. Be sure to avoid going too high, though. If you end up on a ridge, you may end up being too exposed to the wind.
Look for Cover
In most cases, you’ll be able to find existing natural cover to help you stay warm and dry. Look for trees with thick branches or bushes with lots of leaves. Using these natural sources of cover, you can get a leg up on building your shelter.
Face the Wind
Wind chill can drop temperature by 20 degrees or more. When you’re selecting a site, pay close attention to which way the wind is coming from and set up so that you can block as much wind as possible.
Once you’ve found the site that you want to set up on, it’s time to get building. Remember, the goal is to stay warm and dry for the eight or so hours that you’re going to be resting. You’re not building a palace, just a temporary shelter.
To build a solid shelter, you’re going to need:
To build the frame of the shelter:
The space between the two 6-foot branches is going to be the door. Crawl inside the frame to make sure that you will fit. If you don’t fit, try adjusting the frame to maximize the space inside or find larger branches.
With the frame built, it’s time to cover it up. Look around for branches of varying length that you can lean up against the long branch to form the side walls of the shelter. You can use branches or knots on the long branch to help position the side-wall branches.
Once you’ve put the ribs on the shelter to build the side walls, throw the tarp over the whole thing to make it waterproof. Make sure that one of the grommets of the tarp is at the peak of the frame so that you can tie it down to secure it to the frame. Also, be careful not to rip or tear the tarp with sharp branches.
You’ll likely have excess tarp material on the ground that you’ll need to secure as well. Use rocks, dirt, and branches to cover the tarp and keep the wind from blowing in under it. If you can, try to arrange the tarp so that you can cover the door with one corner of the tarp for additional warmth. If you can, layer on more branches or other soft material to help insulate the shelter, but make sure to avoid puncturing the tarp.
Make It Cozy
This step is entirely optional, but it can serve to raise your morale. If you’re able, look around for soft, dry material that you can use to make the inside of the shelter a bit more comfortable. You can use things like leaves or grass, but try to avoid fresh mosses as they tend to retain a lot of water and you’ll squeeze it out when you lay down on it.