5 Ways to Build an Emergency Survival Shelter

In a survival situation, the deadliest factor can be your lack of preparation. If you need to build an emergency shelter out in the wilderness, your knowledge and experience of your surroundings are the best tools you have.


This is a short guide to equip you with the knowledge to build five different types of survival shelters. Do your proper research and look into more about these shelters depending on the conditions and climate in your area.

Know when you need to build a shelter

Survival shelters are naturally occurring or man-made structures that can provide warmth and protection from the elements. In hazardous conditions, you cannot survive for longer than three hours without shelter.

Tarp shelters

If you’re lucky enough to have a tarp handy in an emergency, you will have a relatively easy time building your shelter. You can build a basic A-frame tent utilizing string, rope and trees.

Use a string to tie around two surrounding tree trunks and drape the tarp on top. Then weigh the edges and corners of the tarp with rocks or logs.

Keep in mind, this type of shelter doesn’t do much to provide warmth, though it can protect you from the elements, especially rain.

Tree Branch Shelters

If you’ve got the gift of time to patiently build a shelter, trees are excellent building materials. The most common shapes for tree branch structures are the classic A-frame, and a round shelter with an optional door and smoke hole.

Cold Temperature Shelters

On average, there are 1,301 deaths per year in America due to freezing cold weather. Building a warm shelter is key in these conditions.

Insulate your shelter with as much debris as possible: tree branches, leaves, mud, clay and moss. Trap in as much heat as you can when building your structure.

Snow Shelters

If you’re in a situation where snow is piled everywhere, such as a high mountain, use the snow as your primary building resource.

Erect a quinzee by piling together seven to eight feet of snow. Hollow out the inside and if possible, use straight branches in the roof for added stability. Keep a round shape when building your quinzee to lower the chance of collapse.

Desert Shelters

If you’re stuck out in the desert and need to build a shelter, it will require some creativity in finding building supplies. As you will need to primarily protect yourself from the burning sun in the desert, building a ramada is recommended. A ramada is simply a roof without walls.

Look for shrubbery or any debris that can be used to construct a roof. Your resources may be limited in the desert, so it’s a smart idea to pack some materials if you are hiking.