Desert Shelters

Dry, arid, desertIn an emergency desert situation, you must find shelter quickly. In the dry, arid, desert environment, you must consider the time, effort, and material needed to make a shelter. Any unneeded body movement will consume precious water and hinder your ability to survive the desert conditions.  You want your desert shelter to be effective but simple to construct.

If you have material such as a poncho, canvas, or a tarp, use it along with terrain features like rock outcroppings, mounds of sand, or depressions between dunes or rocks to make your shelter. The objective is to create a covering while keeping all sides open to air current and circulation.

In all methods below, if you have enough tarp material, fold it in half and form a 30- to 45-centimeter (12- to 18-inch) airspace between the two halves. This airspace will provide insulation and reduce the temperature under the shelter by as much as 25 degrees.  This double-roofed shelter dates back centuries and is used in many desert survival scenarios.

In addition, digging a depression in the ground can reduce the midday heat as much as 15-25 degrees.  However, digging may expend too much energy to be practical.  If possible, dig before or after the hottest part of the day (you may build the shelter coverage first, then dig a depression later).

Open desert shelter

When using rock outcroppings, you should:

  1. Anchor one end of your poncho (canvas, tarp, or other material) on the edge of the outcrop using rocks or other weights.
  2. Extend and anchor the other end of the poncho so it provides the best possible shade.

Double-roofed desert tarp shelterIn a sandy area, you should:

  1. Build a mound of sand or use the side of a sand dune for one side of the shelter.
  2. Anchor one end of the material on top of the mound using sand or other weights.
  3. Extend and anchor the other end of the material so it provides the best possible shade.

If you have poles, stakes, or strong sticks available, you should:

  1. Dig a low spot on the ground.
  2. Lay the tarp over the low spot and drive the stakes through the corners of the tarp.
  3. Tie the tarp to the stake.
  4. Drive the stakes into the ground leaving enough space between the ground and the tarp to provide adequate coverage.
  5. If possible, drive additional anchors into the ground about 1-2 feet from each stake.  Tie from the top of the stake to the anchor to provide additional support.