Shelter Site Hazards!

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Like many of you know, who have purchased the USI training Videos, we put a lot of emphasis on safety. Building a shelter is no different. The wrong shelter site can mean the difference in a fun trip or a disaster.

For some of us being in the woods is a life style and we know the hazards in the places we visit most often. Some of these places are our favorite campground or our favorite site in the wilderness. We consider them serene refuge from the rigors of daily life.

However, complacency is not an option anytime you go on a trip. Things change and people cant afford not to check for natural hazards every time they pitch a tent. Even those places we consider “safe”, like natural park camp sites have unseen hazards waiting to ruin our days.


The first and maybe the most common danger are trees. Hazards from trees come from above and thus are less likely to be spotted when setting up a shelter. Tree dangers come in three forms; Snags (trees which are dead standing in part or whole), Widow makers (where the top of a healthy tree is dead) and dead branches.

Spotting these dangers can be difficult but if you stand at your site and look up at a 45% angle in all directions you can identify those dead trees which can reach you. You also need to look straight up and see it their are any overhanging branches which my come crashing down. Just this past year an individual fell victim to a falling branch at a “designated” camp site in a national park.

Another danger are cornices of snow. These are wave shaped snow build ups which have a nasty habit of breaking loose. Well studied in the skiing and climbing world a cornice and its creation of an avalanche, does not have to be close to reach you. In fact a good size slab avalanche can travel long distances based on the terrain and barriers.

Animal trails are another place you never erect a shelter. Trails may be the only clear spot but the hazards are to great to take a chance. Seldom do animals target people for harm but that doesn’t mean you can’t get injured. Imagine being in the middle of a good nights sleep and have an un-suspecting moose come plowing through your ten. What a wake up call!!


In addition you can have issues with insects ( fire ants), mud slides, Dry washes (flash floods from the mountains), low areas (such as lake sides and drainages) which can create extreme temperature drops) and others. The point is, shelter site selection is as (if not more) important than the shelter selection and should be taken seriously.

Summer time is here and many people are heading out to the woods and campsites around the world. Lets hope they are safe and look “up” when they pop up their tent


Overall preparation for what nature can throw at us is not that overwhelming but it does take a little effort. USI has a wealth of information, equipment and training for everyone about all forms of mitigation so visit our web site at and if you have a need feel free to call!

USI Understands that Survival isn’t learned from books but real world experience. This is just one area which makes Universal Survival Innovations unique in the world of training and equipment.

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Author Ben Barr is a 30+ year SERE Specialist who has been a curriculum developer for the USAF Survival School, USAF Water Survival School, USAF Air Mobility Command, USMC and USN