How Important is a Shelter in a Survival Situation?

Wooden Lean-To ShelterA shelter can protect you from the sun, insects, wind, rain, snow, hot or cold temperatures, and undesirable observation from others. It can give you a feeling of well-being and help you maintain your will to survive.

Dangerous Dry, Arid, DesertIn some areas, your need for shelter may take precedence over your need for food and possibly even your need for water. For example, prolonged exposure to cold can cause excessive fatigue and weakness (exhaustion) in a very short time.  If in doubt about the importance of shelter, remember the “Rule of Threes”: You can survive 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food, and in extreme, harsh environments – only 3 hours without shelter.

Seek natural shelters or alter them to meet your needs, therefore, saving energy. A common error in making a shelter is to make it too large. A shelter must be large enough to protect you and small enough to contain your body heat, especially in cold climates.

Your primary shelter in a survival situation will be your clothing. This point is true regardless of whether you are in a hot, cold, tropical, desert, or arctic situation. For your clothing to protect you, it must be in as good of a condition as possible and be worn properly.  If it is torn, it should be repaired.  Clothing should be your first priority.

Selecting the Site

Primitive One-Man ShelterWhen you are in a survival situation and realize that shelter is a high priority, start looking for shelter as soon as possible. As you do so, remember what you will need at the site. Two requisites for shelter are that it must:

  • Contain material to make the type of shelter you need.
  • Be large enough and level enough for you to lie down comfortably.

You should focus on your tactical situation and safety when considering these requisites. You must also consider whether the site:

  • Provides concealment (if needed).
  • Has camouflaged escape routes.
  • Is suitable for signaling, if necessary.
  • Provides protection against wild animals and rocks and dead trees that might fall.
  • Is free from insects, reptiles, and poisonous plants.

Wooden TeepeeYou must remember the problems that could arise in your environment. For instance, avoid:

  • Flash flood areas in foothills.
  • Avalanche or rockslide areas in mountainous terrain.
  • Sites near bodies of water that are below the high-water mark.

In some areas, the season of the year has a strong bearing on the site you select. Ideal sites for a shelter differ in winter and summer. During cold winter months you will want a site that will protect you from the cold and wind, but will have a source of fuel and water. During summer months in the same area you will want a source of water, but you will also want the site to be almost insect free.

Types of Shelters

Tarp ShelterWhen looking for a shelter site, it is important to keep in mind the type of shelter you will need. However, you must also consider the questions below:

  • How much time and effort will you need to build the shelter?
  • Will the shelter adequately protect you from the elements (sun, wind, rain, snow)?
  • Do you have the tools to build it? If not, can you make improvised tools?
  • Do you have the type and amount of materials needed to build it?

To answer these questions, you need to know how to make various types of shelters and what materials you need to make them.

The following explain the construction methods of various types of shelters.

Belowground Shelter

Desert Shelter

Beach Shade Shelters

Three-Pit Snow Shelter


Debris Hut Shelter

Lean-To Shelter

One-Man Shelter

No-Pole Tarp Tepee Shelter

One-Pole Tarp Tepee Shelter

Three-Pole Tarp Tepee Shelter

Poncho Tent Shelter

Poncho Lean-To Shelter

Swamp Bed


Natural Shelters

Underground Desert ShelterDo not overlook natural, geological formations that can provide shelter in a pinch. Examples of natural shelters include caves, rocky crevices, clumps of bushes, small depressions, large rocks on leeward sides of hills, large trees with low-hanging limbs, and fallen trees with thick branches. However, when selecting a natural formation:

  • Stay away from low ground such as ravines, narrow valleys, or creek beds. Low areas collect the heavy cold air at night and are therefore colder than the surrounding high ground. Thick, brushy, low ground also harbors more insects.
  • Check for poisonous snakes, ticks, mites, scorpions, and stinging ants.
  • Look for loose rocks, dead limbs, coconuts, or other natural growth than could fall on your shelter.