Do It Yourself Long-Term Bushcraft Survival Shelter Ideas

long-term bushcraft shelterby Alex P

Veteran bushcrafters innately understand the Rule of Threes. The Rule of Threes is as follows: humans will die after 3 minutes with no air, 3 days without water, or 3 weeks of going without food. At least, those are the most commonly known rules.

One that is equally essential and that gets glossed over is the fact that people can die in three hours without shelter that thoroughly protects them from fatalities in harsh conditions.

You may not think the weather in your area is harsh enough to kill you but you might be surprised. During a 1964 race in England, three competitors were cut down by the cold even though it never dropped to freezing temperatures.

Even without the threat of imminent death, you can still face abundant health risks if you spend an extended period of time exposed to the elements. You name it, Heat, UV rays, cold, rain, snow, all these and more can quickly shorten your lifespan if you are continually exposed to them without a proper shelter to safeguard yourself.

In this world full of uncertainty, there’s always value in being prepared. Knowing what to do in a survival situation could literally determine life or death. If you know how to create survival shelters in the wild you could survive a situation you would have died in otherwise. That’s why we are sharing our top 6 ideas to creating survival shelters in the wild.


Lean-to is probably the most well-known option for creating a survival shelter. You need to find two trees that are close together and a thick stick that can be wedged between the trees. If you can’t find trees and sticks of the right size, you can hammer two sticks into the ground and secure a third between them.

If possible you should then tie the main pole to the supports to prevent a collapse. From there you simply lean a large number of sticks against the pole to create something that looks like half of a roof. Sticks are essential but they aren’t enough, you’ll need to fill in the open spaces between the sticks with moss, leaves, twigs, and other flora to act as a sort of insulation.

Overall, since the lean-to is open on one side the heat that can be kept in is minimal, the lean-to is mainly for achieving a basic level of protection.


Getting trapped on a mountain with nothing but snow in sight is in many ways a worst case scenario, but that doesn’t mean it’s hopeless. Survival structures can be constructed using snow.

You’ve probably heard of igloos, and the idea here is similar. It’s just that in our idea you don’t need to have the expertise used by Northern natives to create homes from packed snow. You can create what is known as a Quinzhee must faster. You begin by piling up your supplies over an area that is larger than your body.

You then pile snow up around your supplies and pack it down until it’s about 30 inches thick all the way around. Try to keep the snow packed smoothly and evenly to prevent collapse. You then dig your way through the side and to your supplies, remove said supplies carefully, and take shelter in the cave you’ve created. Just make sure to poke a small hole in the top for air to come in or else you might be trading exposure for suffocation.

Basic Teepee

For this famous shelter, you need to start by either finding a thin but sturdy tree or a long pole that you can secure down in the ground. From there you will want to find as many long, straight branches as you can and circle the pole with them, leaning them up against it until you have a completely closed cone of empty space in the middle.

You should then somehow secure the pieces of wood together, tying them at the top with rope or fashioning a sort of cord from materials you find in the woods. Finally, you need to add the insulation, packing on anything you can to contain the heat without leading a collapse.

Debris Hut

The debris hut requires two sticks that stretch a bit beyond the length of your shoulders and one long stick that is larger than your height. You begin by sticking the two short sticks into the ground and leaning against each other so that they form a triangle.

You then place one end of the long stick on top of the triangle sticks and the other on the ground around 6 feet away. You then find as many sticks as you can and lean them up against the one long stick to form a sort of wooden pyramid that leaves just enough room for your body in the space left open. Small debris huts may feel claustrophobic, but that can actually be a good thing.

A small shelter may feel cramped at first but it actually seals in your body heat more effectively. And on the topic of body heat, don’t forget to insulate it, the debris in debris hut refers to the sticks used for the skeleton of the structure and the leaves and grass used for insulation.

Tarp Tent

One of the most helpful things you can have in a survival situation is a tarp. It makes shelter construction so much more simple, all you need to do is find a way to prop it over yourself and secure it down so that it will cover you safely through the night.

The second most helpful thing to carry is probably some sort of rope. If you can tie a rope between two trees and toss your tarp over the rope, you’ll have a tent ready. If you don’t have a rope, then you can wedge a sturdy stick between two trees to create the necessary support.

You can actually make just about any of the structures we’ve listed using a tarp, you simply have to put the tarp on top of the basic support instead of leaves, grass, and other natural types of insulation. Just make sure to secure the tarp with heavy rocks or logs to keep it from being blown away by winds.

Find Natural Shelter

The final of our top 6 ideas to creating bug out survival shelters in the wild offers something to think about in all the previous five scenarios. When creating survival shelters you don’t have to do everything yourself, and in most cases the less you can get away with doing the better off you will be.

Time and energy are everything when it comes to survival, you don’t want to waste time getting fancy with your construction ideas in a survival situation. That’s why it helps to start out with an existing foundation you can build on. If you can find a cave, cliff wall, large leaning tree, or some other sort of natural wall or enclosure then half of the job will be done for you.

The average entirely self-built structure might last a night but if you could be stranded for a longer period of time then finding something solid and natural to build around will save you time and effort in the long run.

Though at that point, you also need to consider things like access to freshwater and sources of nutrition when choosing where to set up your survival base camp. For your convenience, we put together a List of Emergency Essentials for you to check off. Survival is about planning ahead so life doesn’t catch you off guard.

Related and Recommended:

Have you built a shelter in the wild? Why? How did it turn out? Please leave a reply in the comments below…

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 21,382 other subscribers


  1. Good ideas. Thanks.

  2. Nice shelter review. Thank you .

  3. Good overview. Make no mistake, even here in the Philippines, there are places where you WILL feel the cold. I have spent a few nights at sea (fishing boats) and trust me, you will appreciate a few extra layers or a thick blanket when you are sleeping on deck. Same goes for the mountains of Baguio. Indoors I loved the coolness but the rest of the family piled on the covers. I am blessed with an abundance of the best building material in the world, bamboo. What we must be mindful of is the location where we build a shelter. Especially in areas where the hillside has been “scalped” you and your shelter are in danger from a mudslide during a heavy rain. I have been on islands here in the Phils where you could camp out comfortably under the overhang of a steep cliff. What some folks do NOT understand is that eroded area under the steep mountainside was created by the action of storms eating away the rock base. Camp there in a bad storm and it will NOT be a good day for you. Better to climb up to higher ground and ride out the storm, albeit needing to cope with a possible strong wind coming in off the ocean. Years ago while I still lived in the northeast US, we had an old fashion soddie built into a hill beside our log cabin. It was a wonderful all-year retreat. We could scan the entire bever marsh below our cabin and the retreat. We watched whitetail deer come down to drink. Moose and black bear would occasionally pass by. Ducks and Canada geese were regular visitors. The soddie was easy to heat up quick in winter and a cool place to enjoy part of a hot summer day. I have lived in some rough places in times past but, for me, that soddie was a castle in the woods.

    • Thanks Jack.
      I appreciate info from those outside the USA, as those folks often have to make do w/less.
      Could you be a little more specific on the term ‘Soddie’? Intriguing.

  4. bobbo, some folks consider a soddie to be any building with a sod-covered roof. We went a bit deeper than that. I am from the Northeast US originally and that is where our soddie was constructed. My eldest son and I dug into a hill beside our cabin creating a nice flat floor area. We had a couple broken off white pine trees (they were quite large) and hoisted the heaviest beam (a peeled white pine log) we could up and into notches, we cut into the prepared trees. We built a rock foundation on both sides and a small wall at the rear. It was then a simple matter to cut long straight poles and cover the soon to be roof area. The poles were peeled and very smooth. The peeled poles ran from the front crossbeam to the short wall at the rear. I cheated a little and used a scrap of EPDM rubber roofing to protect the poles from direct contact with the earth and sod covering. The rubber also prevented dirt from falling into the building. Another cheat was the use of a large surplus thermopane window to allow light in during daylight hours and observation of wildlife. A traditional window would have been to grease up some paper (it becomes translucent) and place that into the door, remember that there was little or no window glass out on the prairie when our ancestors occupied a soddie to get their start on a homestead. We dug in a nice boulder and wedged a good-sized pole into place as part of the door frame, the corner post of one side was the other side of the doorframe. Over the years, several different doors were used. For a time, there was a folded blanket from Goodwill. Later we crafted a proper door. Winter heat was provided by a military tent stove and small flue pipe. Hope this helps to give you a picture of what we constructed.

    • Thanks Jack. It does give me some understanding.
      One of the places I see on the net (looking to leave Illinois, soon!) has what looks like a soddie, of sorts. Dug into a burm, heavy steel door. I’m guessing it can be multi tasked into a root cellar & storm shelter.
      No interior pics, but it may fit the bill.
      Question….feasible to dig in an escape tunnel? ‘The Great Escape’ does come to mind.
      Thanks again!

    • Also, I looked up some ‘soddies’ on you tube. Great stuff!