Short Term Survival Shelters – Mother Earth News

Build quick-to-create wilderness survival shelters with these three shelter configurations that require nothing but tarps, paracord, and trees or branches.

I think you should always carry some equipment that will enable you to build survival shelters in the wilderness if you intend to hike in the wilderness. Even if you’re only going for a brisk walk for a day, having a few simple tools can determine whether or not you’ll make it out alive.

Accidents happen – even on short trips – so it makes sense to be prepared for such, especially if you are going to be left alone. For example, let’s say you’re on a day hike to one of your favorite secluded spots when you slide down a rock and stumble down a hill. You end up with a severe ankle sprain, and you know there’s no chance of getting back in your car by nightfall. Since you just planned a short walk, you didn’t bring a sleeping bag, tent, or other items, and now you have to figure out a way to stay warm and dry through the night ahead.

In such an event, apart from medical trauma, the most urgent need for survival is shelter. One of the easiest ways to ensure you’re covered in an emergency is to carry a 30-foot tarpaulin and a 5-by-7-foot shelter. These two items can be used to build a number of wilderness survival shelters; It’s inexpensive, lightweight, and easy to fit into a day bag without taking up too much space. In short, there is no reason why you should not carry these items with you when you go out into the woods.

Let’s take a look at a few suitable field shelters that you can easily create using tarps, paracord, and materials in your surroundings.

Simple Lean-To System

time: about 15 minutes


  • Tarp 5 x 7 feet
  • 30 feet of paracord
  • A pair of trees close together

This is the easiest shelter to be built on this list. If all you need is a way to get out of the rain and wind temporarily, and hail isn’t an issue, this tilt is about as simple as it gets.
A blue tarp hanging over a black paracord hanging between two I trees
All you have to do is tie the paracord tightly between two trees, then wrap your tarp over it. I form a slight lump of cusp on me to help drench the rain and add more protection against the weather.

Next, I clamp all the corners of the hemp in place with the remaining barcord pieces. If you don’t have enough paracord to spare, use a stone to hammer a small pointed stick through the rings close to the ground to secure the tarp.

There’s nothing to write home about, but this shelter can easily get the job done and keep you safe until you can go home.

shaft shelter earth hugging point

time: about 20 minutes


  • Tarp 5 x 7 feet
  • 30 feet of paracord
  • 10 feet long stick
  • 3 to 4 feet long (2)
  • couple of big rocks

This shelter was called “spear point”, because of the shape of the frame. If you’re on your own or with a young child and don’t have a lot of materials available, and the weather isn’t harsh, this makes a great emergency shelter.
Three branches linked together to form the base of the spear head
After assembling the sticks, attach the shorter stick to the front of the longer stick so that it rests off the ground (see photo above). Place the end of the long stick in the direction the wind is coming from to keep the shelter from snagging.

Next, wrap your tarp over the structure and use paracord to attach it to the joint and down the front legs. Use rocks to hold the tarp on either side of the end of the long stick, and place additional rocks along the sides of the tarp to help keep the heat inside and protect you from wind and rain.

Blue tarp on three sticks assembled in the shape of a tent

Fill the interior of your shelter with leaves and pine needles, and you’ll have a comfortable way to stay safe all night in the woods. For extra warmth, you can cover the outside of the hemp with leaves and pine needles as well. Just be careful not to accidentally punch a hole in your tarp in the process.

Comfortable A-frame bed.

time: about 45 minutes


  • Tarp 5 x 7 feet
  • 30 feet of paracord
  • Trunks and twigs, one foot longer than your body, about the diameter of your arm (about 16)
  • Trunks and twigs, 1 foot wide from your body, about the diameter of your arm (about 10)
  • Pine needles and leaves (as many as you can find)

Of all the shelters mentioned in this article, this is the one that will keep you the warmest. If you are in a very cold wooded environment, this is the shelter I recommend.
Records stacked in a rectangle
The raised wreck bed is a concept I learned from Tony Nester of the Old Trail in Arizona. If given the opportunity, I highly recommend checking out his courses and books. According to testing by Tony, a bed of minor debris can be somewhere around 23 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the outside environment. This is a huge improvement that could make the difference between life and death.

To get started, you’ll need to find a number of fallen logs and branches that are about a foot long. I look for ones that are roughly the diameter of my arm. You will also need some logs and branches that are about a foot wider than you.

Tree trunks are stacked to form a rectangular shelter with pine needles and other rubble inside to provide insulation.

Once you’ve collected your logs and branches, stack them together Lincoln-Log-style to form a rectangle (alternating stacking the long and short sides). Don’t worry about tying them together; They will stay in place just fine. Continue building the shelter until it is as deep as your knees. At this point, you should have a rectangle in which you can lie comfortably. This structure will hold all bedding debris.

Now, collect as many leaves, pine needles, and any other forms of fine debris you can find. I even used pine twigs for bedding of debris. It doesn’t really matter what you use, provided it’s soft and will provide insulation. And the more you have the better. Not only will you use this soft material as insulation to protect against the heat sink, but you’ll also hide in it and form a nice blanket around you.
A blue tarp hangs over the paracord, which is hung over a rectangular frame made of sticks.
After you fill your structure with soft material, use tarpaulin and paracord to create a simple A-shaped shelter over the top. In case of any rain or snow, it will help protect you from the elements and also give you a certain degree of protection against the wind.

When I built this structure, I pulled the hemp away from the logs a bit, allowing me a location to safely store my daypack and thermos out of the rain (see photo below).
Backpack and thermos under blue tarp next to log shelter
I’ve used a number of methods to whip the hemp down so it doesn’t come off too far. Wrapping paracord around a heavy stick or rock is a method I’ve used on hammock trips in the past, and it works great for a survival shelter too. If you are having a hard time finding rocks or sticks large enough, you can tie the hemp to the shelter itself.

One thing to be careful of with this type of shelter is the risk of fire. If you’re making a fire to keep yourself warm at night, keep in mind that you’ll be sleeping inside a giant gas box. Pine needles break out very easily, and you should be very careful when using any type of flame around these or other structures that you have insulated with the soft material.

Final Thoughts on TARP . shelter configurations

The forest is fun. Spending time there is fun, relaxing and beneficial for you. However, there is also a degree of inherent danger involved in making a journey deep within them – no matter how short you intend to be.

Nobody plans on getting hurt, lost, or stranded on a short solo trip, but it happens. If you are going to the woods, take a small piece of cloth and some paracord with you. While I hope you don’t need it for the purposes discussed in this article, the likelihood that you will need it makes it worth the small amount of effort required to achieve it.

Aden Tate is a writer who enjoys backpacking, playing basketball and taking pictures of mushrooms deep in the woods. He is the author of a book The Redeemed Prepared: A Christian’s View of Preparedness.

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