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How To Find Shelter in the Wilderness

An image of a log covered in moss. It has the words "tips for the apocalypse: how to find shelter in the wilderness" overlaid on top, as well as the Total Prepare logo.

Photo by Harlow Kasprak – Websitethink.com on Unsplash. Text and other elements added by Total Prepare.

Extreme conditions can quickly move “find shelter” to the top of your priority list, even above food and water. In many parts of Canada, freezing to death is a very real concern for those lost outside—even in the summer. I fondly remember a camping trip to Banff, AB where we woke up to the sound of snow collapsing our tarp… in June. It was a very rude awakening to us soft Victoria kids, and it made me wonder: How would we have fared without the tent? Read on to learn how to find shelter if you get yourself into a similar situation.

Where to Look

Your ideal shelter site should have:

  • Materials nearby for building
  • A water source nearby
  • Wind breaks (trees or rocks usually)
  • No danger of flooding
  • No danger of landslides

Finding Natural Shelters

The outdoors is full of natural shelters that can be used in an emergency. Keep an eye out for caves, hollows, or even hollow, dead logs that might fit your body. Be aware when scouting out these locations—they may already be occupied. Look for scat on the ground nearby, if it is warm go elsewhere. If you find a good spot, try to light a fire at or near the entrance to ward off any wild visitors.

Keep shelters small. The smaller the space, the easier it is to heat. Take care to watch for holes, steep drops, and other hazards while searching, especially in hollows and caves.

View from inside a rocky forest cave looking out onto bright green trees.

Natural caves can provide most of the protection you need. Photo by Jacob Kopplin on Unsplash.

How to Use Tree Wells

Tree wells may be one of the easiest locations in which to find shelter. Look for large trees with roots that create a sheltered depression. Enlarge the tree well and use tree limbs or—if available—a tarp or spare emergency blanket for a roof. If you are doing this in snowy conditions, be aware that tree wells in snow can be very deep and it can be easy to fall into them. In these instances, you’ll want to use a snow cave instead.

How to Build a Snow Cave

Most regions in Canada offer opportunity to even find shelter in snow- not so much on Vancouver Island however. Find a snowbank at least five feet high and dig a tunnel into it. At the end of the tunnel, create a chamber that you can fit comfortably inside, and poke a few holes in the roof for ventilation. If conditions are not right for a cave, or if you’re worried about collapse, dig a trench in the snow instead and create a roof from tree limbs, a tarp, or a spare emergency blanket.

Bare trees during winter with snow banks beneath.

If the weather turns sour, dig a snow cave for shelter. Photo by Joe Wong on Unsplash.

How to Construct a Lean-to

Lean-tos are a staple of survivalists everywhere. They are simple to build and a popular choice for those in need of a quick emergency shelter. Use logs or rope to build a frame and fill in the walls with sticks, branches, bark or whatever else is to hand that will do the job. The easiest shape to build is a triangle, so don’t try to get too fancy with DIY log cabins or tipi-style shelters. (Unless you have experience and can do it well, of course.)

Find Shelter in the Wilderness

Once you have found shelter, ideally, you want your shelter to be small, low profile, and hard for curious animals to spot. However, this will also make it difficult for rescuers to see you. Therefore, light a fire if you are able, or leave a written message for searchers nearby with arrows to your hiding place.

Happy trails, and thank you for reading!

This article was written by Zenia Platten – Author and emergency preparedness professional

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