Primitive Shelter Building: A Necessary Skill



Fall is upon us, which means time is running out for those weekend camping trips we all love! Make the most of the time you still have by using it to practice building these primitive shelter options.

7 Primitive Shelter Options You Can Try

Why Learn How to Build a Primitive Shelter?

Why Learn How to Build a Primitive Shelter? | Primitive Shelter Options

Think about it this way…when SHTF, how likely are you to have your 4-man tent and down sleeping bag with you?

You should absolutely aim to have them close enough to grab if you suddenly need to Get Out Of Dodge. But if push comes to shove and you aren’t able to carry them, you need to know how to build a shelter. After all, along with food, water, and fire, shelter is one of the 4 essential survival elements.

Practicing primitive shelters while camping is the perfect opportunity. If anything does go wrong, you can still grab your tent out of the car and try again in the morning.

Bear in mind that the situation will dictate what kind of shelter you need to build. That includes things like terrain, wildlife, weather (and climate in general), and duration.

In a get-home scenario, you only need something that will last the night. When you’re bugging out, on the other hand, your shelter needs to last long enough for you to build something more semi-permanent, like a small log cabin.

The point is, there are many different situations where being able to build a primitive shelter can be the difference between life and death. You want to know how to skew the odds in your favor.

Choosing the Best Location

In a real survival situation, you aren’t going to be very spoiled for choice when it comes to location. However, knowing what to look for and how to properly evaluate your surroundings has a huge impact on the type of shelter you’re able to build and how well it’ll last for as long as you need it to.

If you know you only need temporary shelter for one or two nights, you’d got a huge advantage because you don’t need to be overly concerned with the environment. You’re planning on moving on come morning.

This means you can start looking at trees (especially ones that have fallen), rocky overhangs, caves, and if you’re in a desert environment – the steep side of dunes.

These all provide the most basic shelter and can be used as part of your framework when erecting a primitive shelter. Your main concerns will be making sure you build away from the wind and on dry ground.

When sheltering for the long-term, however, you can’t just pick a likely spot and set up camp. In addition to the same concerns that short-term shelters bring, you also need to evaluate your surroundings to make sure that you have a ready source of fresh water and food. You also have to think about whether your chances of survival will be helped or hindered by it being relatively easy for others to find you.

Primitive Shelter Options


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Here’s a quick overview of 7 primitive shelter options:

  • Simple Frame and Tarp – can shelter 1 to 2 occupants and is easy to build in less than an hour
  • Body Heat Shelter (Small Mound) – can shelter 1 to 2 occupants and is easy to build in less than an hour
  • Lean-To or Open Shelter – can shelter up to 4 occupants and is moderately easy to build in 3 to 5 hours
  • A-Frame Shelter – can shelter up to 3 occupants and is moderately easy to build in 3 to 5 hours
  • Teepee Variations – can shelter 1 to 2 occupants and is moderately easy to build in 3 to 5 hours
  • Subterranean Shelter – an easy-to-build version can shelter 1 to 2 occupants and be ready in more or less an hour; a more permanent version can shelter up to 8 occupants but is also more difficult to build and takes weeks or even months to complete
  • Log Cabin – can shelter up to 4 occupants and is relatively difficult to build, taking upwards of a week to build

Generally speaking, most of these primitive shelters are best considered short-term solutions. Even a well-constructed tarp, lean-to, A-frame, and simple teepee shelter is not going to last the long-term.

However, they make excellent choices for staying warm and dry at night while dedicating more time to building a lasting shelter, such as a log cabin, for long-term survival.

What You Need

Let’s take a quick look at what you’ll need for building any of these shelters:

  • Simple Frame and Tarp – a tarp or poncho; 3 to 4 long, straight branches; cordage to secure the frame; rocks to anchor the tarp; a knife or multi-tool for cutting wood and cordage
  • Body Heat Shelter (Small Mound) – sticks to support an opening and possibly to act as a rudimentary frame; debris (dirt, leaves, twigs, even snow) to form an insulating mound; jacket or something similar to cover the opening from inside to trap your body heat; a shovel makes working a lot easier too
  • Lean-To or Open Shelter – tree branch (relatively parallel to the ground) to act as a ridgepole; 10 long, straight branches to form a lean-to grid; cordage and/or zip ties to secure the grid; leafy branches, long grasses, bark, etc to use as roofing (a tarp with these items packed over it works very well too); a knife or multi-tool for cutting wood and cordage
  • A-Frame Shelter – tree trunk serves as a support for the ridgepole if you can’t find one with a branch extending relatively parallel to the ground; otherwise identical to the lean-to/open shelter
  • Teepee Variations – slender tree trunk to serve as a center support (optional); 10 to 15 long, straight branches; cordage for lashing; leafy branches, long grasses, bark, etc to use as roofing (tarp works well, as with the lean-to above); a knife or multi-tool for cutting wood and cordage
  • Subterranean Shelter (easy) – same principle as the body-heat shelter, but using the environment to your advantage, e.g. using the root base of a fallen tree
  • Subterranean Shelter (complex) – complex subterranean shelters are typically built in advance, but can also be a converted cave or grotto, providing you’ve ensured it isn’t already being used by animals and are able to put in a durable entrance (such as a door)
  • Log Cabin – large/medium rocks to serve as stilts; gravel for drainage; several long, straight logs; saw or ax to fell logs; shovel for clearing ground prior to construction; tools for shaving and notching logs (can also be your ax, especially if you know you can sharpen the blade properly)

Knowing what you have in your bug out bag, take the time to practice using them to build primitive shelters. One day, your life may depend on your ability to do so!

Which of the primitive shelter options are you excited to give a try? Let us know why in the comments section!

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