One of the things that makes humans unique is our ability to modify our environment to suit our physical needs. At its core, that is what survivalism is protecting yourself from a set of uncontrollable circumstances, such as weather to prolong your life.

Shelter is the primary way we protect ourselves and without it, we would not survive long. In a survival situation, the “best” shelter uses as few resources as possible to meet the needs of the situation. The concept of shelter goes beyond just a roof and walls. It is a barrier between you and the things that can harm you.

Types Of Long Term Survival Shelter In The Woods

Survival shelters are structures that are made to protect you from the environment and wilderness. It provides you a safe place to rest. There are several types that include long term survival shelters that require more resources, but will last long enough for weeks to come.

When deciding which type of survival shelter to build, consider how long you'll be staying, if it needs a fire place, and your surroundings. These are import factors that will help you pick the optimal location and survival shelter for you.

1. Teepee Shelter

This requires the most resources and time intensive of a long term survival shelters. However, it is also the largest and most comfortable for groups. Most temporary teepee’s use tarp or canvas for a covering, but the video above shows how these builders have used natural materials for their survival shelter.

Gather Necessary Materials

Rope, heavy twine, or paracord – 25-50 feet or more is ideal

Rock, stake, or log equal in number to how many poles you have

Large covering – tarp or canvas are the most reliable.

Roughly 3 to 4 poles, at least 1/3 longer than the diameter of the tent. If you want to lay down around a slightly off-center fire, your teepee needs to be about 9 feet in diameter and your poles will need to be 12 feet long. The more poles you use, the more stable your teepee will be. Three is fine for overnight, six is better if you’ll be staying for a few nights. For a long-term situation, you may want 12 or more.

Connect Your 3 Base Poles

Lay your 3 most sturdy poles on the ground next to each other and lash them together about ¼ of the way down from the top. For our 12-foot-long poles, that would be about 3 feet down.

Tie a knot and leave a long tail. The tail will help secure your covering later, so leave 10-12 feet.

Secure Your Base Poles

Stand up your 3 base poles in the shape of an equilateral triangle.

Add more poles, bisecting the first three until you have your desired number.

Be sure that each pole is supported at the ground by a rock, log, or stake

Wrap the lashing around the poles you just added. Tie a granny knot and leave the rest as a tail.

Cover And Secure Your Teepee

Wrap your covering around the frame with the ends meeting in between two poles.

Use the long tail to ‘sew’ the opening closed, leaving the lower few feet open for you to come and go through. Make sure you leave enough cord at the end to tie the opening closed at night.

Use your remaining cord to tie your teepee down to nearby trees to keep it secure from wind.

2. A-Frame Shelter

This is the quickest survival shelter to put up and requires the least amount of resources. This could be as simple as tying a rope to two trees and throwing a tarp over top. However, you can also plus this up by making the frame of wood.

If you can find a long straight branch to use as a ridge pole, you can use shorter branches to frame openings on one or both ends. Use rope, twine, or paracord to secure the ridge pole to the frame openings. Secure the base of the tent to the ground with stakes, rocks, or by tying the corners to trees.

3. Lean-To Shelter 

This survival shelter, also known as a lean to can also be very quick to erect and requires little in the way of supplies. In fact, in some cases, you need to have little more than some rope or cord with you. You will need 3-5 long branches. One will be the ridge pole, so it will need to be long enough for you to lay down inside your shelter.

Secure your ridge pole between two trees with cord high enough off the ground that you will be able to crawl (or walk) into your shelter. You’ll then lean the other branches on each end. If you can’t tie the ridge pole up high, you can use two of the shorter poles to form a support for the ridge pole on one or both ends.

If you have a waterproof tarp available to use as a cover, you can secure it to the ridge pole, stretch it to the ground, and tie it off. If you don’t have any covering available, this is a great shelter to take advantage of natural materials. You can lean more branches from the ground to the ridge pole and secure with more rope. Pack the gaps with moss, leaves, or mud.

Assess Your Needs

The first step in building your survival shelter is to assess your needs. The U.S. Army Survival Manual (FM 3-05.70) suggests that at a bare minimum your shelter should be large and level enough to lay down comfortably.

Beyond that, your first factor need to consider is the climate. The second need is to protect yourself from the wildlife in the area. This could include predators who want to harm you but could also include pests who just want to steal your food.

Your final basic need will be fire. Fire will help protect you from predators, provide warmth, security, and cook your food. You will want to decide how and where you’re going to produce fire before you begin constructing your shelter. In some types of structure, such as a teepee, the fire is brought inside, but you must leave a smoke hole. In others, such as a lean-to or cave, the fire is placed in the opening so that it provides a layer of predator protection.

Assess Your Resources

Once you’ve decided what you need in an emergency shelter, you can begin taking stock of what you have to work with. Of course, you should already know what supplies you’ve got in your survival kit, but you also want to assess your proposed campsite.

The first thing to look for is the natural materials available to you. The gold-standard of natural occurring shelters is a rock cave. This requires little more than making sure there are no other creatures living there and securing the entrance with fire or other materials.

If there are no rock caves in your area, look for a wooden or earthen one. A depressed area in the ground with fallen trees surrounding it can be a great starting point. The simple addition of a roof can be enough to provide the immediate shelter you need.

Once you have exhausted the functional limits of the natural resources, you can begin to use what you’ve got with you. Some basic elements of your survival kit probably include a survival blanket or tarp, paracord, knife and fire-starting materials. Use as few of these as required to construct your shelter. 

Beyond The Shelter

There are several other considerations that you’ll want to think about when building your survival shelter. Primarily, you need to consider ready access to more resources that can meet your ongoing needs. The most important of those is water.

You’ll also want access to a food source. This could be fish or wild game, but might also be foraged materials such as nuts, roots, and berries. Additionally, access to wood or other fire making materials should be high on the priority list. Fire has many important survival uses from purifying water and cooking food to keeping away predators and providing warmth.

After shelter, water, food, and fire, you may want to think about security. This could be from predators, but also from environmental risks. Being sited near water or on rocky hills, your shelter could be threatened to floods, avalanches, or rockslides. You need to check the base of your shelter as well as the terrain above and around it. Some of these risks can be mitigated later, but it’s best to just situate your site in the right place from the beginning.

If it seems like you will be in a survival situation longer than a few days, the long-term stability and comfort of your shelter itself are a prime consideration. You will want a safe way to store food, water, and essential equipment. Equipment needs to be protected from the elements.

Your final consideration for long-term site use is sanitation. According to the Washington Trails Association, you want your toileting area to be at least 200 feet away from your living space, waterways, washing area, and food storage, and downwind of the entire camp.

Additionally, you also want your washing area to be at least 200 feet from your shelter and downstream or separated from your drinking water source. There are many different methods to purify water in the wilderness, but all require some measure of forethought. Because of the importance of water to your survival, it is always best to have more than one method available to you.

Bottom Line

As you can tell, the concept of shelter is more complicated than it seemed when we were kids building a fort in the woods. For true outdoor living when you don't have a survival tent; building a shelter that is secure, considers environmental factors, predators, human needs, and even the limits of your own capabilities. Successfully building a survival shelter starts well before you need it by gathering knowledge, building a good kit, and staying physically fit.