How to build a shelter



An essential rule that underlies survival is to build a shelter and light a fire before nightfall. Once you have done these two things you can move away to look for water and food.

The construction of a makeshift shelter depends very much on the availability of the surrounding environment and on the person’s capacities.

Depending on where you are there are basic rules to follow to quickly improvise a simple and effective shelter.

A good shelter allows us to sleep better and then rest our body and mind. Being able to rest at least a couple of hours to regain strength is very important in terms of survival allows you to think better and put you in a positive psychological state.


Always choose a safe area, assessing possible dangers and unforeseen events.

Prefer a shelter behind a rock or a rise so you can keep an eye on only one road.

Avoid shelters near slopes or lands at risk of falling rocks.

If you are the victim of an accident, use the disaster vehicle as a shelter or use its parts to build one. Pay attention to the tanks if they are ignited or at risk of fire.

If you wait for help, always try to build the shelter in an area clearly visible to emergency teams and keep a fire lit or more fires to be glimpsed more.
Before it gets dark it is useful to stock a firewood, and keep it close to the shelter in order to feed the fire by waking up at regular intervals.

Keeping a fire lit near the shelter, as well as signaling the position and heating up in cold climates, will keep feral animals away.

Remember that at night the equator arrives suddenly and in the mountains it gets dark early. In the desert the nights are very cold, due to the strong temperature range between day and night.

If you travel to a campsite always carry a sleeping bag and a waterproof sheet.

In survival equipment there should always be an aluminum isothermal blanket (aluminum emergency blanket). This aluminum cloth is useful for a thousand purposes: it is waterproof, it protects from rain, wind, humidity and snow, it also heats from the cold and protects from the sun as it reflects it, its reflection can be useful to postpone the heat of the fire and to make reporting, also folded takes up very little space.

If you find a natural shelter (cave, cave, crevice, protrusion of a rock, under a tree that a thick foliage, etc.) or artificial (mountain shelter, mine, abandoned vehicle, shack etc.) take advantage of it do not waste time building one.


In very hot climates, building a shelter is useful not only for spending the night but also for sheltering from the sun and finding a bit of refreshment in the shade on the hottest days.

In areas with a lot of vegetation (jungle) the ideal shelter is the raised one (if you own a hammock is perfect), but if you sleep on the ground it is important not to sleep in direct contact with the ground but spread one or more towels or in absence create a bed with branches, twigs and many leaves. It is also advisable to clean the surrounding area so that it is as uniform as possible (to prevent small animals, snakes and other reptiles from approaching and hiding for example in foliage, bushes or grass bundles).

Burning the area around the shelter can be a great way to keep unwanted animals away.

If the area is particularly at risk of storms, do not build the shelter above or near tall and isolated trees.

Never build a shelter in a dry river bed.

If you build a shelter near waterways, rivers and seas, consider a possible flood, high tide, flood, flood or overflow.

Before using a cave as a refuge, carefully check that it is not inhabited by ferocious animals. If the cave is empty but inside you find faeces and fresh food leftovers immediately gone, it means that at any moment the landlord could arrive.

If the area is full of mosquitoes and other annoying little insects: light a fire creating a very thick smoke, use an anti-mosquito repellent, cover the shelter or the hammock with an anti-mosquito net, burnt the dry stools or a termite nest on the fire , wear clothes that cover your whole body like long-sleeved shirts and trousers, also wear light gloves and a cover-up, sprinkle with mud, avoid building a camp near swamps, ponds or marshes.


If the temperature is cold, build a small shelter so that the heat lasts longer and does not get lost inside the shelter itself.

It is very important not to fall asleep if the shelter does not protect safely from the cold and therefore from freezing and frostbite.

Never fall asleep with wet clothes. In these conditions it is better to stay vigilant and try not to doze off. If the outside temperature is very cold to build an efficient shelter and light a fire nearby, it also helps to put under the clothes a padding of luck using straw, paper, grass and dry leaves …

Never sleep in direct contact with the ground if it is wet or snowy, create an insulating layer with foliage, twigs and twigs.

Light a reflector fire in front of the entrance to the shelter to heat the shelter.

A good shelter in the snow can be created by digging a deep hole or a trench covered with a cloth or vegetation (avoid friable and too soft snow).
Illustrated examples of shelters in snowy areas:

Tip: a lit candle increases the heat inside the shelter.

In an ice area or with temperatures where the air is below zero, you can build an igloo.

Building an igloo takes time and patience, and you need to know what type of snow to use.

The snow to be used for the blocks must be compact, old and beaten by the wind.
Cut the blocks of snow with a long knife or a machete if you do not have them, improvise with a wooden board with sharp edges (measures 30x10x2 cm) or a long piece of hard plastic.

Describe in the ground a circle of the desired diameter (if the igloo is for one person the recommended diameter is less a meter). Beat the snow with your feet to form a uniform floor.

Prepare the blocks in these proportions (length: from 50 to 80 cm, width: from 20 to 30 cm, height: from 15 to 30 cm).

If you do not have a measuring tape, use your SPANNA that is the measure between the thumb and the little finger of the spread hand. The span of an average man is about 20 cm, (it is still advisable to memorize his own measurement).

Begin placing the blocks following a spiral or simply looking increasingly narrow and inclined towards the inside.
The shape of the igloo that must be created must be semi-spherical. The blocks for the igloo can also be obtained from the inside by digging a hole to make the structure deeper.

The taller bricks must be lighter and inclined inwardly so as not to give too much weight to the structure. The last block on top to plug the igloo must be conical and must be placed very carefully so as not to collapse.

Once you have finished the cover, cover the outer surface of the igloo with a layer of fresh snow and close the entrance with a blanket. It is recommended to protect the igloo by creating a small access tunnel.

Once the dome is finished, make an entrance hole in the wall protected by a small vault that serves to prevent the entry of gusts of wind (the hole is useful for the exchange of air). A smaller hole at the top serves as a chimney pot when the fire is lit.

Light the fire in the igloo to melt the inside walls; if the walls start to drip, let in some cold air, removing the blanket from the entrance.

Even if the outside temperature is very cold, the hot red embers inside will make the environment warm and welcoming.

IMPORTANT: In an igloo you can hardly capture the external sounds (the ice is a bad conductor of sound as well as the snow), so you may not hear the rescue (eg airplane noise, screaming).

To build a solid and safe shelter you will undoubtedly need ropes, but it is not enough, you will also need to know how to make simple but resistant knots; I suggest you read the following chapter: STRUCTURE AND NODES.