To start off, if you find yourself in a survival situation, you need to find shelter. Shelter is a must in certain climates, and can be more important than food or water. To keep things concise, I’m only going to talk about general survival and not escape and evasion (which changes things dramatically). I’m also going to examine survival in a moderate climate. Snow survival and desert survival deserves their own post.
You might be asking yourself, why do I need a shelter? What if it’s just a nice sunny day, a warm 70 degrees and not a cloud in the sky? Here’s why. A shelter is necessary because it keeps us warm and/or cool, keeps can help keep the bugs at bay, and it can help add little comfort to an uncomfortable situation. Because let’s face it, survival isn’t camping. It isn’t fun, and each day that you find yourself in that kind of situation is going to be worse than the last. If my Air Force survival training taught me anything, it was that your health would degrade as the survival continued. You want to do everything you can to prolong comfort and the ability to live, and a shelter is going to help you with that very thing. Plus, who knows what the weather is going to be like in an hour? That cloudless day could turn into a rainstorm and leave you soaking wet.
First and foremost, a shelter is going to help stave off hyper/hypothermia. The body’s temperature is generally around 98.6 degrees, too much of a shift in either direction (sometimes it only takes a raise or drop of 3-4 degrees), and basic functions are going to start to shut down. The shade will provide somewhere to cool down in extreme heat, and it will provide cover for wind, snow, and rain. You want to do everything in your power to maintain that core temperature. Once you start to lose or gain temperature, it can be difficult to get back to normal.
To do the above things, the shelter needs to be insulating and small enough to reflect body heat. Yet, we don’t want it too small that it’s uncomfortable. This leads into the next part. What kind of shelters can you make? A shelter can be as easy as finding a cave or overhang (natural shelter), or dragging a bunch of sticks next to a rock face, to pulling out a tarp and making a make-shift tent (man-made shelter). I’m going to talk about some of the common basic shelters: Lean-to, Wedge, and Tarp/Poncho.
Before you build a shelter, keep a couple of things in mind. Which direction is the wind coming from? It wouldn’t do to make the entrance to your shelter be same way the wind is blowing. It’s going to make for a blustery night. Is there water nearby? I wouldn’t’ suggest building too close to a lake or stream, who knows what’s going to happen while you are sleeping. A flash flood or heavy rain could cause the water to rise and the next thing you know, you’re swimming. What’s the wildlife situation? Do you need to build your shelter off the ground? Do you run the risk of predators moving in on you during the night? Keep these things in mind when you pick your spot.
Below are some links to a couple of sites that talk about survival shelters in a little more detail. I also recommend practicing these techniques next time you are out camping. Practice makes perfect, and you don’t want to try this out for the first time in an actual survival situation.
Up next, food and water procurement in a survival situation, followed by the will to survive. Remember, there is still time to vote on what you would like to see in the fourth installment.
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