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The following comments refer to building a shelter in a survival situation.
It takes some practise to make a shelter; if you are practising the craft, bear in mind that you probably need permission from the landowner to cut down standing timber, fell branches, etc. Always take down your practice shelter afterwards as it may become unstable with time and be a danger to children playing in the area. Some temporary shelters can be dangerous if not made correctly, for example, the igloo as illustrated above. This sort of construction requires knowledge and skill.
Most people can manage to find shelter or make a crude shelter in a survival situation, which is why I cover only the necessary basics here.
The first rule in a survival situation is not to waste precious energy, so always look for natural shelter rather than spending time and effort making a temporary shelter. In the photo below, the fallen tree is stable and it would take little work to turn it into a debris shelter by propping branches against it and sealing the gaps with grass sods or foliage (see below).
A few pointers about using natural shelter
Points to consider:
Making a shelter
You possibly have two items in your Personal Survival Kit that can be used to make a very efficient shelter for adverse weather conditions — your Space Blanket and a double loop snare. If you don't have a double loop snare, improvise using the strongest cord you have (two trouser belts, shoelaces, cordage, etc.) and make a slipknot loop at each end. Using these items, you can make a quick overnight shelter or a shelter with one week's durability if you are carrying a reusable Space Blanket.
Simply, rest or lash support timbers against each other and cover in thatched reed, branches from fir trees, earth sods or anything else available to keep out the elements.
The shelter below was built in a fir forest using only a commando wire saw for felling and trimming and uses the natural support of the trees themselves as the main structure. It took me 2 hours to collect the materials and 1 hour to build a shelter large enough for six people. I undertook this as a demonstration of how one person could construct a shelter for a number of injured people as part of an Army training exercise.
Such a shelter has various possibilities. It could be built faster and lower using only one side to protect from the prevailing wind. It could be constructed on four sides to give a bad weather shelter in unpredictable weather conditions. A shelter this size could house a group of six and is high enough to allow a small cooking fire inside it.
Study what is available and make a shelter good enough to protect you and strong enough to stand up for the length of time you intend to use it. Always test the stability of a large shelter by shaking key supporting parts as you build it. The shelter crossbeam could be lashed to the trees for additional security in a strong wind if you have plenty of cordage. If you use trees as the main structure, bear in mind they sway around in a strong wind and raindrops from the leaves drip down long after it has stopped raining. Test and retest everything you do. Better if it collapses at the outset, rather than when you are asleep inside it.
Points to watch
Make certain the crossbeam is securely in place before walking underneath it.
Use the weight of heavy side beams to press the crossbeam back against the supporting trees if you have no means of lashing the crossbeam to the trees.
Hang the thatching branches pointing down to send rain shooting off them. Construct your thatch from the bottom working up, so each new layer overlaps the layer below it by one third.
The safest and most effective way of heating a shelter, like the lean-to shelter in the above photo, is to make a reflector fire. Hammer two rows of uprights in a line parallel to the entrance of the shelter and pile timber up between them to make the reflector. Light a fire a short distance from the reflector. This directs more heat from the fire towards the entrance of the shelter. Lining the rear, inside wall of the shelter with a silvered space blanket reflects more heat inside the shelter.
Security: The stockade
Traditional Masai thorn stockade
The stockade is one of the earliest forms of security enclosure built around a shelter or for protecting animals from predators. Before the invention of barbed wire, thorny branches or thorny scrub was used to deter attack by humans and animals.
Traditional thorn stockade used to protect both livestock and herders
How to make a thorn stockade
Use a peg and a length of cordage to mark out two circles, one of 2 metres (6.5 feet) diameter and one of 2.5 metres 8 feet diameter. Scale up or down to suit the number of people you need to protect, but remember it is quicker to build two smaller stockades than one very large one, and security is increased if not everyone is housed in one stockade. It is wiser not sleep in the same stockade used to house animals. If scorpions are present in the area you are building the stockade in, first, cover the whole area of ground with brush wood and burn the ground to kill off any scorpions that are living below the surface soil or grass. Let the fire area burn hot for half an hour and then rake the hot ashes over to spread the heat. (Make sure all the ashes are dead before building the stockade.)
Hammer in posts around the perimeter of both circles and fill the area between them with thorny branches or thorny scrub. This should be tightly packed to prevent smaller animals from passing through any gaps.
Leave a small gap for an entrance and make a gate of compacted thorny branches. To close it, pull it shut with cordage from the inside to plug up the gap. Use a long pole to push it open again.
If you are in an area where snakes could pose a threat, rake the ground over around the outside of your stockade before you close it up for the night. Snakes prefer not to travel over newly disturbed ground.
Finally, build your shelter inside the stockade. This stockade will give you good protection from most small predators, even lion. However, the Masai have tales of lions jumping into a stockade and then you have a fight on your hands in an enclosed area that you cannot easily escape from. If you are in lion country, you need to surround the outer wall of your stockade with pointed stakes hammered into the ground at an angle to give further protection. Lions are more likely to attack a stockade containing livestock than humans — if this is any comfort. A stockade built in this way as a temporary survival technique will not stop larger animals; bears, for example, have been known to tear a stockade apart to get at the people inside.
How to make a snow–hole
To make a snow–hole (snow cave) you dig into a deep, compacted snowdrift (requires about 3 metres 10 feet of deep snow), which you'll usually find on the lee side of a wind–exposed ridge.
Excavate a hole large enough to lie down comfortably inside it. The construction is very important and means the difference between freezing to death and staying alive. A snow–hole is warmer to live in than any surface shelter, including a tent. It takes time to make, especially if you do not have a shovel and are digging with improvised tools. The snow–hole (above photo) was dug in the Grampian Mountains in February. Although you cannot tell the scale from the photo (we were more interested in getting under cover than in taking photos) it was large enough to accommodate four people and took five hours to dig out. We sheltered in it for three days to ride out a bad storm. It was a very cold and unpleasant but safer than ploughing through a blizzard driven by winds reaching 40 mph (18 m/s). An occasion when survival knowledge was vital.
Inglis and Doole's story
In 1982, Mark Inglis and Phil Doole were high up the slopes of New Zealand\'s highest mountain, Aoraki Mt. Cook, when a blizzard hit. They built an ice cave and waited for the storm to pass, but it would be 13 days before help could reach them. They survived on meagre rations, but in the cramped cave they lost circulation in their legs, which had to be amputated. This has not stopped the men's climbing careers. Both have gone on to summit Mt. Cook, and in 2006, Inglis became the first double amputee to conquer Mt Everest, losing five fingertips and more flesh off his legs to frostbite, though none of his strength of character. He told the New Zealand Herald, 'When you lose your legs when you're 23… something like this is just a minor hiccup, just a bump in the journey, really.
Making a snow–hole