Building a Natural Emergency Shelter With No Tools

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ominous_forest_coldHave you ever tried to build a shelter from natural materials in the woods?  Have you ever tried to do it with no tools?  Have you ever tried to do it with no tools in the winter in a foot of snow? Well I did, and here’s what happened. I went out snowshoeing with my yellow lab (Phyllis) and thought it might be cool to pretend that I was lost and needed to set up a shelter for the night.  It was about noon in mid-February, which meant I had roughly four and a half hours to build a shelter and get a fire going.

By Jarhead Survivor, a Contributing Author of SurvivalCache and SHTFBlog

Since I never go into the woods without minimal equipment I can’t say that I had zero gear, but I didn’t use any of it when I built it.  Here’s a little video of just how easy it is to build a shelter from natural materials in the snow with no tools.  What could go wrong?

Time Line:

  1.  Fall on my ass:  5 seconds
  2. Swear:  17 seconds
  3. Gather wood:  1:20
  4. Breaking wood:  2:51
  5. Constructing the shelter:  4:54
  6. Tipping:  6:08
  7. Covering the shelter:  6:53
  8. Digging the firepit:  7:19
  9. Lighting the fire:  8:24
  10. Chillin’ in the shelter:  9:03

Don’t Lose Heat!

Before we actually build the shelter let’s take a look at some of the objectives.  First and foremost, don’t lose heat!  You lose heat through the following processes:

  • Convection – think blowing wind here
  • Conduction – like sleeping on the cold ground or sitting on a cold rock or log
  • Radiation – heat leaving your body like heat waves coming off  a woodstove
  • Evaporation – sweat

Building a shelter from what you have around you with no tools and keeping these rules in mind is a bit of a tradeoff.  Do the best you can with what you have.

Resources and Construction

In my case, I decided to build a lean-to style shelter from what was lying around in the forest.  In the section of forest I was in, there were a lot of standing dead fir trees about three to four inches at the base.  I looked all over and found a good supply of what I’d need, then went back to where I’d decided to set up my camp.

Read Also: Emergency Storage of Wild Plant Foods

It was in the forest near water, although this wasn’t absolutely necessary since there was so much snow on the ground.  However, it’s easier to gather water or ice then melt snow, so you exploit whatever edge you can, which is what I did in my mock survival situation.  It was also close to my supply of wood and a decent amount of fir trees, which I’d need for the fir boughs.

Next I laid a small log between two trees supported by small logs I’d broken and put underneath to hold it up.  This “cross beam” was about three feet off the ground.  Then, I laid a couple of ribs along it to get an idea of how long they’d need to be so I could break bunch to the right length.

survival_shelter_fallen_treeAfter this, I went and gathered what I hoped was enough wood to put the ribs on the shelter.  (If you haven’t seen the video, you should check out the first minute or two.  I completely fall on my back, while breaking some trees off).  Hey – nobody said it was going to be easy. Next I had to break the tree length sticks to the right size.  To do this, I found two trees close together.   Then I stuck the wood I wanted to break between the two and pulled on it until it broke where I wanted it to.  This isn’t pretty, but it gets the job done.  (Again, see the video for a demonstration).

I tried to build the shelter with it’s back to the wind so as to cut down on convection.  When you have a wind blowing it lowers the temperature considerably and with my shelter set up with it’s back to the wind and the fire throwing heat in, I was in pretty good shape.

Covering It Up

winter_shelter_survival_fireOnce I had the ribs on it was time to cover it up.  There are plenty of fir trees in that area, so I resorted to a technique called “tipping”, which means to break the tips off some fir branches in order to get what I need.  This doesn’t particularly hurt the tree as long as you don’t snap off every branch.  I gathered five or ten armloads and put some on the outside of the shelter and a few armloads inside as well to avoid losing heat through conduction.

Related: Ten Facts About Fire

Special note:  if I were going to build this for real, I’d put a lot more pine boughs over the top and on the ground to really help with the insulation.  Since this was a demo and I was getting tired I decided to go light on the insulation.

Next I broke some wood up for the fire and grabbed some small dead branches off fir and pine trees.  I piled the wood up and put the tinder on top then lit it with a lighter I happened to have in my pocket.  (I could have used a firesteel, but the lighter was quicker and easier).

Pretty soon I had a merry blaze going and decided to make myself some coffee.  Part of that small kit I told you about is a military canteen cup, so I poured in some water and made coffee using a coffee bag (exactly like a teabag, but with coffee instead).

After Action Report

canteen_cup_fire_shelter_survivalIt really wasn’t that difficult making a shelter using natural materials.  True, I don’t feel like I totally finished it, but it would have been easy enough if I needed.  I could have also covered it up with snow to really insulate it or added more to the front to make it less of a lean-to and more of a full shelter instead. The total time to make the shelter, even in the snow, was about two to three hours.  The thing about a shelter like this is you need a lot of wood to keep you warm through the night.  In the area I was in, it wouldn’t have been a problem because of all the dead wood laying around, but in other areas it might not have worked out so well.

Again, you’ll need to adjust the kind of shelter you have according to the materials available. Questions?  Comments? Sound off below!

 

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The Ultimate SHTF Bug Out Camp Trailer

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Camp trailer 2

cabin_aspens_bug_outConcepts abound for how to provide shelter in the wilds after a bug out escape has been executed.  The sheltering ideas are as diverse as there are preppers and the personalities of people wanting get out of Dodge when things go south.  The options vary from the totally austere use of a mere tarp thrown over a clothes line between a couple trees, to investing in an outbound parcel of land with a house, barn, or other conventional fixed prep shelter.

In between the ends of this spectrum are all kinds of options.  Some prefer simple camping Boy Scout type tents, others opting for sturdier outfitter walled tents.  Beyond tents are fixed campers on wheels of all designs.  Some are lightweight pop-up types with a tent type fold out top, but a solid floor with living conveniences built in.  Others are just tiny, enclosed, walled, towable trailers.

Related: Choosing the Best Shelter for Your Bug Out Bag

Naturally, there are full bore travel trailers of every description on the market from basic units on one axle to huge outfits on dual axles with an extra slide out room or more, and nearly all the amenities of a regular house, only it’s portable.  These are self-contained living quarters than can be towed to any outlying camping area, to secured and hidden locations.  

Then, there is another category of camping trailers that are just a bit more out of the normal mainstream of camping units.  One such outfit named the Timberline Range Camps is located in Mount Pleasant, Utah.  A fitting location to headquarter a specialty camping trailer company.  

The Timberline Outfit

escape_trailerThis team of outdoors minded people have created a line of camping trailers including 11 different models currently available with all kinds of differences in sizes, options, amenities, and equipped to provide about any kind of an outdoor escape shelter. When making an investment like this, there is certainly a lot to consider. While this report is suggesting their use as a potential SHTF Bug Out shelter, naturally they have suitable applications to any outdoors recreational activity from camping in the great outdoors, fishing, hunting, cycle or ATV riding to just relaxing in the woods or by the stream or lake.  Such would make great dry runs for a real SHTF event.  

Just by appearance one gets the impression of the quality of these units; they definitely have an air of ruggedness about them.  They certainly are not cheaply made simple camping trailers with weak frames or construction.  These units are intended for extended outdoor living if necessary.  

The Timberline Escape Model

Camp trailerFor this report, we selected one of the eleven models to concentrate on, so readers would have an idea of the features of one unit.  The Escape being appropriately named for prepping and survival, is a unit that is 21-feet long, nearly 8 foot wide inside with an interior length of 16 feet.  The height of the unit is 11 feet.   Ground clearance on these trailers is of particular interest being 24-inches which is a very high clearance for a unit of this type.  

Contained within is a long list of standard features with other options that can be custom ordered.  First, at the rear of the unit is a full main bed, a pull out table, twin trundle bed with under bed storage.  The Escape is set up to sleep four. Forward is a kitchen, living area with seating benches, a wood stove, a 3-burner cooktop, a 2.7 cu. ft. refrigerator, and a sink.  There is a shower and a toilet.  You have to realize these campers are designed to maximize minimal space if that makes sense.  They are compact for sure, but laid out to be comfortable and utilitarian.  Amazingly, there are plenty of cabinets and storage space, too.  

These campers have a stronger frame than most and more insulation to withstand colder or hotter weather.  These units include a solar panel, 2 30-pound propane tanks, a 20,000 BTU forced air furnace and a water package including a 42-gallon fresh water tank.  The units have gray and black water holding capabilities as well.

Camp trailer 7The electric package includes outlets, lighting and other features to enhance the use of the units.  There is a full complement of inside and outside lights, running lights and tail lights.  There are two 6-vdc deep cycle batteries for the camper. Full camper hook ups are included in the event you have access to external utilities, water hookups, and gray/black water release hook ups.  Options are many including built in entertainment packages, satellite ready, a toy hauler deck for an ATV or motorcycle(s) that then becomes an exterior porch for relaxing.  

Read Also: Prepper Basics – Shelter in Place

You just have to review their web site to get a full appreciation of the design and function of these camper units.  These would be ideal for a Bug Out escape, and or a ready set up alternative shelter in place, ready to use.  Add an outside supply and equipment shed, and any prepper would be comfortable for an extended stay.  

How much?  Have you shopped the cost of a new car or pickup truck lately?  I have.  The new Toyota Tundra I would love to have tops $50,000.  I will probably settle for a Chevrolet Silverado like I have had since 2008 for around $40,000.  The base model Timberline Escape camper goes for around $42,000.  

If you think that is expensive then price other camping trailers, a few acres of isolated farmland, or woodland property, and add the cost of building a small camp house.  The Timberline’s are well within the reasonable costs for a SHTF Bug Out shelter.  And you can move it around as necessary for additional recreational options.   
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Rehab A SHTF Prep Shack

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Survival Bug Out House

When I was a kid growing up in Southeast Missouri, my dad bought a lot at Kentucky Lake outside of Murray, Ky.   We started Bug Out House SHTFcamping there in a big tent then later dad traded an airplane for a house trailer and boat from a manufacturer in Elkhart, Indiana.  That’s another whole story for another day.  The boat riding, skiing and fishing was great.  Anyway on the drives over to the lake in the back seat of the old sedan we would always pass by numerous old ramshackle shacks falling in to the point of total disrepair.

By Dr. John J. Woods, a contributing author to SHTFBlog & Survival Cache

Dad would always say, “Hey, now there is a fixer-upper if I ever saw one.”   We would then begin a long discussion of what we could do to the old house to make it livable.  It sure did pass the time on the long, hot drives to our lake campout site.  This got me to thinking recently when I passed by an old rundown shack like the ones we used to spot on our way to the lake.   Maybe preppers could acquire such a property for an escape bug out location.  What would it take to get such an old place back in decent shape to create an alternative site to outlast a SHTF situation?

Conduct a Bug Out Shack Search

For many preppers around the country finding a good “fix it up” house, barn or other structure on a piece of land might be easier survival shtf housesaid than done.  It is certainly going to take some dedicated research to locate just the right place for just the right deal.  Those living in more rural small towns or mid-sized cities can often escape to the country easier than those living in huge metro complexes.  Still finding a little piece of land with an existing structure can be done.  Start by studying the web sites of real estate agents in prospective targeted areas.  Eventually plan to visit these areas for a firsthand inspection.  If there are farm or rural newspapers available in your region, these often list such properties for sale or even rent/lease or lease to buy.   You just have to start the process and be prepared to make your move when the offer is right.

Points of Access

Wherever you buy or locate a potential bug out spot, determine your own comfort levels with how easy, difficult, open, or hidden bug out housethe access points are to the property.  Where are neighbors located, essential services, supply outlets availability, utilities, water service, and other critical issues to consider for a secondary SHTF residence?   There are many factors to take into consideration when selecting a potential bug out shack.

Also Read: Campground Bug Out Location

Even with a prepper bug out shack the bottom line is still location, location, location.  What that means for preppers is the degree of relative security for the area.  A bug out shack does not have to be at the end of a long gravel road lost out in the country somewhere.  It just has to have potential for some elements of security, isolation, and protection considerations.  Avoid buying something that sits right on a highway or even a rural road in plain view of the public passing by.  It would be best to have a house out of sight down a driveway where a sturdy locked gate could be erected.  Again, ideally the lot would be wooded.  This could not only be a source of firewood for the house for heat or cooking but also a habitat for game that could be harvested for food.

Related: 4 Types of Bug Out Camps

A prime property would have established trails or ones easy to make as well as observation points to the outside.  If things really go down the tube, then marauders will be out searching for anything they can steal (heck, they do that now).  Don’t make it easy for them to simply drive up to the front door and bust it down.  Seclusion and security will be paramount.

The Austere Approach

Your SHTF bug out shack need not have all the elements of refinement like your primary residence probably has.  You might be Best Bug Out Houselucky to get electrical power, good water, and sewer or a septic tank.  If not, then preppers can certainly improvise what they perceive as their most necessary needs.  Power can be supplied via gasoline generators, water wells can be created, and an old fashioned outhouse can be built as well.  During a SHTF event, prepper-survivalists may have to live by wood heat, candle lights, and other very basic living conditions.  These are just circumstances that preppers need to be prepared for whether bugging out or in.

Fix Up Skills

I can do a lot of damage with a hammer.  If you do decide to buy a self-fix it up place, survival_shtf_teotwawki_food_storageyou’ll need carpentry or home repair skills for sure or a team member that has them.  You might have to do roofing work, inside flooring or walls, plumbing repairs or many other repair tasks.  Remember to have the proper tools purchased, too.  Besides buying or leasing an existing structure do a pre-deal assessment of the work needed to make any potential shack inhabitable and as comfortable as possible.  This expense may be more than an RV or a large camping trailer.  Keep all your options open.  If you do not possess the skills necessary to rehab a place, then don’t take on more than you can handle or afford.  Dreams are dreams, but don’t be foolish in the face of reality.

So, this is just one more option to consider for a suitable bug out domicile.  It does not have to be a castle, but it has to be sound, secure, and livable.  It may not have or ever have all the ideal amenities, but then improvements and enhancements can be done along the way, too.  If you are definitely leaning toward a bug out to an alternative site then consider the search for a SHTF prep shack.  It may just be the option you are looking for.

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